How the U.S. Government Helped Rescue Artifacts from the Iraqi Jewish Community

Feb. 24 2016

In May 2003, U.S. troops in Baghdad searched the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s notorious secret police and found something quite unexpected. Joe Samuels—born in Baghdad in 1930—describes their discovery and reminisces about his own flight from Iraq:

[W]hat they discovered in the heavily damaged and flooded basement of the building were Iraqi Jewish artifacts. These included 2,700 books, some dating back to the 16th century. They found Torah scrolls, prayer books, and tens of thousands of documents. The Baath party, headed by Saddam Hussein, [had] looted and confiscated public and personal items from dozens of synagogues, schools, and community properties. After the discovery, with the approval of the then-provisional Iraqi government, these remains of the once thriving, millennia-old Jewish community in Iraq were brought to the United States. . . [T]he U.S. government has restored and preserved these artifacts. . . .

By November 1947, anti-Semitism and discrimination by [Iraqi] government officials was regularized and implemented in earnest. Then, following the United Nations vote to partition the British mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the oppression increased drastically. . . .

After graduating from al-Adadiah High School in Baghdad, I was accepted at three universities in the U.S. Because I was Jewish, I was denied an exit visa to leave Iraq. To be considered for an exit visa, I needed to deposit 3,000 dinars. Let me offer a comparison to demonstrate the enormity of the amount; at the time, an Iraqi working-class family [normally earned] four or five dinars a month. Fearing for my life after some of my friends were arrested, I was fortunate to be smuggled out in December 1949. My father, an importer of cloth, had to leave behind our family villa, his office, and a warehouse full of merchandise.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Anti-Semitism, Archaeology, Baghdad, History & Ideas, Iraq, Iraqi Jewry

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan