Iraq: Americans petition State Department to return stolen artifacts to Jewish people

A U.S.-based civic group is calling on the State Department to terminate its plans to return to the government of Iraq the priceless artifacts of the millennial Jewish presence in the land that was once Babylon. Jewish Voice Ministries International seeks to mobilize Christians in the U.S. with a petition drive in order to prevent the loss of this invaluable heritage. The group is calling for the artifacts' return to their rightful owners – the Jewish people rather than handing them over to a government that persecuted them.
 
Speaking for Jewish Voice Ministries, CEO Jonathan Bernis declared on March 18, "We didn't return the belongings of the Jewish people who suffered in the Holocaust to the German government. Why would we stand by and allow this terrible injustice to take place?"
 
Responding to the news about the petition drive, prizewinning author and investigative journalist Edwin Black told Spero News exclusively, “This archive belongs to a Jewish community in Iraq, 2700 years old, which predates Islam by a millennium, but was almost completely expelled stateless and deprived of their property in the early 1950s."
 
"This collection was assembled not as a record of a once-flourishing community, but hidden in a basement of Saddam Hussein's security service as a cloistered trophy of its successful persecution and expulsion of a whole people. Hitler did the same. But Germany never kept the spoils once recovered.”
 
Black has written a number of bestselling investigative works, including War Against the Weak, IBM and the Holocaust, and The Farhud. The latter of these recounts the ethnic cleansing of  the Jewish community in Iraq that began during World War II, with the assistance of Nazi Germany, and continued into the 1950s.
 
History shows that Jews lived in what is now Iraq for 2,600 years before 1930's Nazi propaganda ushered in persecution in concert with the Muslim Grand Mufti of Jerusalem including seizure of property, pogroms, and public hangings. These are documented by Black in The Farhud. Men, women, children and the elderly were not spared by the largely Muslim persecutors. Iraq’s Jews fled, leaving behind their property and loved ones killed by Nazi-inspired Islamist haters. 
 
When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fell to allied forces in 2003, American soldiers found thousands of Jewish artifacts and works of art in the flooded basement of Iraq's notorious intelligence headquarters. These included a Hebrew Bible of the 16th century, a 1902 hand-lettered Haggadah guidebook, and  fragments of the sacred Torah. These had been seized by Iraq’s secret police from synagogues and Jewish schools. Nonetheless, the U.S. later signed an agreement with Iraq's provisional government to salvage the artifacts and archive. Two million dollars of U.S. taxpayer money was spent on the project. Many of the recovered texts have been digitized and are available online.
 
However, the State Department has agreed to return the restored archive to Iraq this summer. Currently, only five Jews are known to live in Iraq. The country’s government still refuses to recognize the Jewish state of Israel.
 
The petition being circulated by Jewish Voice Ministries can be seen at RescueJewishProperty.org 
 
Delivery of the petition is expected by May 30 of this year.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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