I saw something amazing today. The National Archives of the United States, which houses the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, hosted an exhibition of more than 2,700 Iraqi Jewish artifacts – including Torah parchments and ancient prayer books – from a Baghdad synagogue that was looted under gunpoint by Saddam Hussein in 1984 and discovered in 2003 by U.S. troops in the basement of the Baghdad Intelligence Agency. The saving of the treasure was orchestrated by former Pentagon analyst and orthodox Jew Harold Rhode, whose name is on the metal boxes that were shipped from Baghdad but who is curiously not mentioned once in the exhibit. I’m told it’s the first time the National Archives has hosted a collection that is not native to the United States.
The United States spent approximately 3 million dollars to restore the badly molded documents and did a spectacular job. But there’s a catch. Our government made a commitment to the government of Iraq that it would return the collection once it was restored. The Iraqi Jewish community of the United States is now demanding their ownership.
Let’s be clear. This is not something that belongs to the Iraqi government. It was looted by Saddam Hussein and should be returned to its rightful owner, the Jewish community of Iraq, who now find themselves mostly in Israel (between 250,000-400,000) and the United States. That the US is even considering returning the stolen collection is incredible. Our government contends that it made a commitment to the Iraqis before they took the documents to restore them. But you can’t make any commitments about property that doesn’t belong to you so the United States is not bound by its commitment. We’ve had enough property looted and stolen from the Jewish community in recent history to condone any more, and the Jewish community in the US should organize politically and fight any attempt to return the collection.
But this just begs the bigger question of the Iraqi government’s lack of sensitivity, if not outright contempt, for things Jewish.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi stated to the world, as early as 2004, that the new Iraqi government would not reconcile in any way with Israel, with whom Iraq had technically been in a state of war since 1948. The current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reiterated the policy, pledging for his nation to establish diplomatic ties with every sovereign United Nations member state, except one – Israel. He also announced Iraq would not have anything else to do with Israel, be it cultural, military, or economic. For good measure the Prime Minister’s Dawa Party went further and called on all Islamic countries to sever any and all relations with Israel.
Really? Are we back to this kind of hate-Israel-even-when-have-yourself-experienced-Arab-tyranny nonsense?
But what is truly horrible is the thought that the American people gave the Iraqis their liberty only to see their government become a gang of anti-Semites.
The United States should have imposed a peace treaty on Iraq with Israel from the outset. Our government spent $1 trillion and lost close to 4,500 heroic American lives liberating Iraq. We did not do it so they could be xenophobic Israel-haters. The vast majority of Americans are supporters and admirers of Israel and would be appalled to discover that a steady stream of anti-Israeli invective is seeping out of Baghdad. When we Americans liberated Iraq we didn’t ask them for their oil and we didn’t’ ask to be reimbursed for the unprecedented expenditure and loss of life. But what we certainly deserve is for Iraq to embrace the universal, humanitarian values that make America exceptional. Irrational hatred of Jews and Israel is not an American value and our soldiers did not die for Iraq to become a bunch of bigots.
About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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