U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Steve Israel have introduced a resolution, H.Res. 505, recommending the United States renegotiate the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archives to Iraq so that the preservation of the archives can be guaranteed and so that the Iraqi Jewish community may have access to them.
The Iraqi Jewish community, long a vibrant part of Iraqi society, was subject to persecution beginning in the 1930s and 1940s. Many fled for Israel but were required to renounce their citizenship and, as a result, the Iraqi Jewish community has dwindled to a small number of people. In 2003, U.S. led coalition forces discovered in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters a trove of Jewish artifacts in deteriorating condition. An agreement was made between the U.S. government and the Coalition Provisional Authority to send the artifacts back to the U.S. for restoration and display. However, not knowing the full extent of what was among the documents, the National Archives and Records Administration agreed to send these artifacts back to the government of Iraq rather than to their rightful owners and their descendants.
H.Res. 505 urges the State Department to use all available options to ensure the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archives to its rightful owners and descendants, ensure that the archives are adequately preserved, and guarantee access to Iraqi Jews and scholars of such material in order to secure justice for the Iraqi Jewish Community.
Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"The Iraqi Jewish community, once a thriving part of Iraq, is now almost nonexistent as most are now part of the widespread Jewish Diaspora. The injustices they had to endure while in Iraq -- the harassment, the pogroms, the forced exile -- have painfully resurfaced with the discovery of the Iraqi Jewish Archives in 2003. Confiscated and looted from the Jews of Iraq and left languishing in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters, this treasure of artifacts is almost all that remains of the collective memory of this once vibrant community. If the United States were to send these items back to the Iraqi government it would force the Iraqi Jewish community and its descendants to live through the ignominy and loss it once suffered all over again. These artifacts belong to their rightful owners and their descendants, and under no circumstance should they be turned over to the Iraqi government. I thank my dear colleague, Steve, for joining me in introducing this resolution today. We must continue to work together to ensure that the right thing is done, and these items find their way back to the Iraqi Jewish community."
Statement by Israel:
Rep. Israel said, "I am grateful that these artifacts, which represent the rich and vibrant Jewish community that once existed in Iraq, have been restored and are on display for the public to view. However, I do not believe that we should send these priceless treasures back to the Iraqi Government. That's why I worked with my colleague, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen to introduce this resolution so we can ensure that these artifacts remain protected, preserved, and readily available to their rightful owners or their owners' descendants."