In accordance with a 2004 act of Congress, the massive archive of stolen Jewish books, documents, and artifacts that had long been in the possession of Saddam Hussein’s government—and is now in the U.S.—will be handed over to the current Iraqi government in September. Memoranda of understanding between Washington and the respective governments of Syria, Libya, and Egypt could concede the same rights to those countries as well. Carole Basri and David Dangoor want to ensure that Mizraḥi Jews don’t lose their communities’ treasures:
At the beginning of the last century, nearly one-million Jews lived in the Middle East and North Africa. Living in what is today known as the “Arab world,” these Jews had preceded Islam and the Arab presence in much of the region by around a millennium.
However, this all came to an end during the middle and latter part of the last century when these indigenous communities were forcibly expelled en masse, leaving no more than a few tens of Jews left in the Middle East outside of Israel.
In May 2003, with the Jewish community long since being forced to flee—leaving their assets and property, personal and communal, behind—more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents, records, and religious artifacts were discovered in the flooded basement of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters by a U.S. army team. This archive is a testament to the 2,600-year-old Iraqi Jewish community. As a result of their poor and neglected state, the archives came to the United States to be preserved, catalogued, and digitized, and have been on exhibit in a variety of cities for several years. Now, against the will and objections of the Iraqi Jewish diaspora, the U.S. government is preparing to ship the archives back [to Iraq], where its original and legal owners will never have access to or even be able to see it. . . .
On January 31, the International Council of Museums (“ICOM”) announced the release of a [document know as a] Red List for Yemen. The Red List directly targets Hebrew manuscripts and Torah finials, while reaffirming the Yemeni government’s claims to Jewish property. . . . Frequently, issuing a Red List is the first step in a process to hold public hearings and, ultimately, pass memoranda of understanding between the United States and foreign governments (like Yemen) that blockade art and cultural property, and deny U.S. citizens the rights to their historic heritage. . . .
The Iraqi Jewish Archives should be returned to its private and communal Iraqi Jewish owners, who were never consulted on the expropriation of their property or on the agreement made between the United States and Iraq on the return of their property to Iraq.