SCHUMER: STATE DEPT ONCE AGAIN UNWISELY PLANS TO RETURN CONFISCATED JUDAICA COLLECTION TO IRAQ; SENATOR RENEWS CALL TO NOT SEND BACK TO IRAQ NEARLY 3,000 JEWISH ARTIFACTS THAT WERE ORIGINALLY SEIZED BY SADDAM HUSSEIN’S REGIME
In 2013, Schumer Successfully Pushed Then-Secretary Kerry to Not Return 2,700 Ancient Jewish Artifacts to Iraq; Artifacts--Like Parchments From Torah Scrolls & Prayer Books--Were Found by American Soldiers in a Flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center & Brought to the U.S. to be Preserved
New Reports Suggest State Dept. Plans to Return Judaica Collection to Iraq in 2018
Schumer: State Dept. Should Continue to Work With Iraqi Jewish Community to Ensure Artifacts Remain Accessible to Jews Worldwide
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the State Department to reconsider its decision to return more than 2,700 Jewish artifacts to Iraq. In 2003, American soldiers found the collection of Iraqi Judaica in a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center. The collection, which includes partial Torah parchments and ancient prayer books, had been seized by Saddam Hussein’s troops and belonged to members of the once-vibrant, now-exiled Iraqi Jewish community. The U.S. spent $3 million to preserve the collection. In 2013, Schumer successfully urged Secretary Kerry not to return the artifacts to Iraq, which would have made the artifacts inaccessible to the broader Jewish community. With the deadline approaching, Schumer today renewed his call that the administration not return these items and instead work with Jewish organizations and the Iraqi Jewish community to determine an alternative location for these sacred artifacts.
“This collection does not belong to the Iraqi government, it belongs to the ancient and proud Iraqi Jewish community – many now here in the States -- that was exiled many years ago and forced to leave their belongings behind,” said Senator Schumer.
Schumer continued, “It’s disheartening that parchments of a Torah scroll and prayer books were discovered in such poor condition inside a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center. After the United States preserved this ancient collection, it makes no sense to return the items to the Iraqi government, where they will no longer be accessible to the Jewish community. Therefore, I am once again urging the State Department to do everything in their power to ensure that these treasured artifacts remain available and accessible to Jews worldwide.”
In 2003, 16 American soldiers discovered 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents in a flooded intelligence building in Iraq. The collection had belonged to synagogues and Jewish organizations in Baghdad. The Iraqi Judaica includes a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, a Torah scroll fragment from Genesis, a Zohar from 1815 and other sacred ritual objects.
Items of the collection were seized by Saddam Hussein in 1984 from a Baghdad synagogue. The collection was placed there by Iraqi Jews during their mass exodus in the early 1950s. In the 1940s, outbreaks of anti-Jewish rioting occurred, and in 1948 Zionism was a capital crime. Between 1950-1952, more than 130,000 Jews left Iraq and were not allowed to carry more than one suitcase each.
The U.S. State Department had agreed to ship the collection back in 2014, but the Iraqi Ambassador to Iraq issued a statement extending the stay of the artifacts in the United States until September of 2018.
Schumer today wrote to Secretary Tillerson asking that he reconsider the decision to return the artifacts to Iraq. Schumer made the case that because these items were stolen by the Iraqi government, they should not be allowed to return to Iraq. Schumer urged the State Department to work with Jewish organizations and the Iraqi Jewish community both in the U.S. and abroad to find a location to permanently store and display the Judaica collection.
A copy of Schumer’s letter is below
Dear Secretary Tillerson,
I write today out of deep concern over the recently reported decision to return over 2,700 pieces of Iraqi Judaica to Iraq next year. Four years ago, I urged then-Secretary of State John Kerry to delay and ultimately prevent the Iraqi Jewish Archive from returning to Iraq in 2014, the initial return deadline for the collection. Thankfully, after my urging, the deadline was postponed, however, the new deadline is now September 2018. These treasured artifacts belong to the Jewish community and, therefore, I am renewing my call for these artifacts to remain available and accessible to Jews worldwide – especially the exiled Iraqi Jewish community.
In 2003, American soldiers found the collection of Iraqi Judaica in a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center, and the United States has spent over $3 million dollars preserving the collection. The collection, which includes partial Torah parchments and ancient prayer books, had been seized by Saddam Hussein’s troops and belonged to members of the exiled Iraqi Jewish community. Specifically, this priceless collection of Judaica consists of a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793, a Torah scroll fragment from Genesis, a Zohar from 1815 and other sacred ritual objects.
Items in the collection were seized by Saddam Hussein in 1984 from a Baghdad synagogue. Iraqi Jews placed the collection there during their mass exodus in the early 1950s. In the 1940s, outbreaks of anti-Jewish rioting occurred and in 1948, Zionism was made a capital crime. Between 1950-1952, more than 130,000 Jews left Iraq and were not allowed to carry more than one suitcase each. When the United States attempted to assist Iraqi Jews who wished to leave Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003, just 34 Jews were found in the entire country – a mere shadow of a 2,500 year old community which at its height numbered over 130,000 people.
These items belong to the people who were forced to leave them behind when the Iraqi government chose to exile them from their homes. Since the exile of Jews from Iraq virtually no Jewish life remains in the country – this treasured collection belongs to the Jewish community and should be made available to them. I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to return these artifacts to the Iraqi government next year and urge you to work with Jewish organizations and the Iraqi Jewish community both in the United States and abroad to find a location to store and display these cherished items in a manner which respects their history.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer
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