Iraqi-American Jews oppose planned return of Jewish artifacts
The last remnants of Iraq’s once-vibrant, 2,500-year-old Jewish community left the country long ago. (Only five Jews remain, according to a recent New York Times op-ed.) But some Iraqi Jewish manuscripts, community records and holy books may soon be sent back, much to the chagrin of Jewish Iraqi expatriates.
When an American weapons inspection team entered the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters in May 2003, shortly after the American-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq, they didn’t exactly find the weapons they were looking for.
Instead, languishing in four feet of murky, rancid water were texts dating back as far as the 16th century —including siddurim, commentaries, Torah scrolls and community records from hospitals, synagogues and elsewhere. Why the Iraqi government had stored these items is unclear.
Since the discovery, the materials have been in the United States’ hands, and much of the collection is being restored and digitized, at a cost of about $3 million. Some of the materials were placed on public display on Nov. 8 at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as part of the exhibition, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi-Jewish Heritage.”
The Archives has published a portion of the collection, which the Archives has on the Internet, including a Hebrew Bible printed in Venice in 1568, a Passover haggadah from 1902 and a 1917 letter from a British government office in Baghdad to Iraq’s chief rabbi regarding his request to provide matzah to Jewish prisoners during Passover.
Despite the collection’s recent unveiling, time is short for those hoping to see the items.
When the restoration and digitization of the entire collection is completed, which will likely be in 2014, the State Department will return the documents to the Iraqi government as it agreed to do when the U.S. government found them, even though no Jewish community remains in Iraq.
State Department spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala wrote in an email to the Journal, “Consistent with the August 2003 Agreement, we are committed to returning the material to Iraq following the completion of the preservation project and the exhibition of the material in the United States.”
Funding for the project, according to Jhunjhunwala, “also includes provisions for training Iraqi conservation professionals in preservation and the exhibition and handling of the material after the collection returns to Iraq.”
In late October, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles put out an action alert urging people to call their Congressional representatives, asking them to sign a letter urging the State Department “to facilitate the return of these items to their rightful owners or their descendants, and not to the government of Iraq.”
Joseph Samuels, a Baghdad-born Jew who secretly crossed into Iran in 1949 with his younger brother, now lives in Santa Monica and is a member of Kahal Joseph, an Iraqi synagogue in Westwood. Born in 1930, Samuels is troubled that the collection may be returned to people he says will have no concern for it. “They couldn’t care less about the history of the Jews,” Samuels said. “I think it’s a terrible idea.”
Joseph Dabby, who moved with his family from Baghdad to Los Angeles in 1972, agrees. “To return them to where they will be treated as trash is incredible to me,” Dabby said. “I’m pretty sure they will be neglected.”
Dabby, 67, is chairman of the board of Kahal Joseph, and he recounted the challenges Jews faced in Iraq when he lived there four decades ago.
“Jews in Iraq were persecuted continuously,” he said. “[They were] not allowed to practice their own businesses, not allowed to get higher education.” The two synagogues in Baghdad did not regularly hold services, except on holidays, Dabby said. “We were scared to convene.”
Asked where he would like to see the documents end up, Dabby responded, “The Iraqi community in the States should really convene and make a determination where they should go. Wherever they go, as long as they are accessible to the Iraqi Jewish community is acceptable,” he said.
However, Dabby also expressed gratitude to the American government for restoring the documents, and even to the current Iraqi government “for letting these documents be restored.”
“We recognize the effort and we appreciate that,” Dabby said. “We are just not in favor of them going back.”
Menachem Begin in December 1942 wearing the Polish Army uniform of Gen. Anders’ forces with his wife Aliza and David Yutan; (back row) Moshe Stein and Israel Epstein
(photo credit: JABOTINSKY ARCHIVES)
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015
The annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium, is expected to take place on Sunday with even more antisemitic elements than in previous years.
Aalst’s organizers have sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for revelers to dress as hassidic Jews in the carnival’s parade. The kit includes oversized noses, sidelocks (peyot) and black hats. The organizers plan to bring back floats similar to the one displayed in 2019 featuring oversized dolls of Jews, with rats on their shoulders, holding banknotes.
Pope Francis waves as he arrives at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari, Italy February 23, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli.
Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal.
Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Palestinians walk past a shop selling fruits in Ramallah, Feb. 20, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have reached an agreement to end a five-month long trade dispute, officials said on Thursday.
The dispute, which opened a new front in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, began in September when the PA announced a boycott of Israel calves. The PA exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals.
Antisemitic caricatures on display at the annual carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Raphael Ahren via Twitter.
Disturbing images emerged on Sunday of the annual carnival at Aalst, Belgium, showing an astounding number of antisemitic themes, costumes, displays and statements.
Israeli journalist Raphael Ahren documented people dressed as caricatures of Orthodox Jews, a fake “wailing wall” attacking critics of the parade, blatantly antisemitic characters and puppets wearing traditional Jewish clothes and sporting huge noses.
Feb 02, 2020 0The remarks from the US official came in wake of the Palestinian decision to reject the administration’s peace plan. US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to...
The stench of anti-Semitism always hovers over Switzerland’s Lake Geneva when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is meeting there. The foul emanations reached a new nadir last week with UNHRC’s publication of a “database” of companies doing business in the disputed territories in Israel.
Following the publication of the list, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy director for advocacy of NGO Human Rights Watch, stated, “The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements [sic] is to aid in the commission of war crimes.”
One of the many things that annoys me about politicians is how sure they are of themselves. Everything is black and white. Every idea is good or bad. Take globalism, for example. You either love it or hate it. It works or it doesn’t.
Another thing that annoys me is how so much of a politician’s life revolves around power: Do everything you can to get it, and everything you can to keep it.
Why am I ranting? Because, while our politicians have been consumed with power and the media with the fights over power, a threat to our nation has been virtually ignored.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are establishing their diplomatic credentials in the immediate run-up to Israel’s March 2 election with an insult to a U.S. administration that has arguably provided Israel with more diplomatic gains than any previous administration.
The Times of Israel reported that at a campaign stop in front of English-speaking Israelis, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “of neglecting bipartisan ties in favor of exclusive support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” under the headline “Gantz pledges to mend ties with U.S. Democrats if elected.”
Bipartisanship was in short supply at the State of the Union address earlier this month—with one notable exception.
Nancy Pelosi had been looking dyspeptic, shuffling the papers she would later rip to shreds, when President Donald Trump reminded his audience that “the United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.”
Suddenly, the House Speaker applauded. Trump then introduced “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela: Juan Guaidó.”
The law professor Alan Dershowitz has thrown a legal hand-grenade into America’s political civil war by claiming to have evidence that former President Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigate someone “on behalf” of Obama’s “close ally,” billionaire financier George Soros.
He made his cryptic remark in an interview defending U.S. President Donald Trump against claims he interfered in the prosecution of his former adviser, Roger Stone.