In an effort to help protect a trove of Iraqi Jewish artifacts, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), along with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), introduced a bill to keep the collection in America rather than return it to Iraq.
Known as the Iraqi Jewish Archives, the collection of 2,700 books, religious texts and civic documents were recovered by U.S. soldiers from the basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters in 2003. Because the archive was in a badly damaged state upon discovery, the United States and the Coalition Provisional Authority signed an agreement whereby the United States would restore the material and then send it back to Iraq.
In addition to preserving the archive, since 2013 the National Archives and Records Administration has displayed the collection throughout the country for the benefit of scholars, citizens and the Iraqi Jewish diaspora. The collection is set to return to Iraq in September 2018, despite the fact that only a few Jews live in Iraq today.
The Senate resolution calls on the United States to renegotiate the agreement with the Iraqi government to allow the archive to remain in America for a longer period of time.
“In 2014, I introduced a resolution with Sens. Blumenthal and Schumer calling on our government to keep this priceless archive in the United States,” Toomey said in a statement. “That resolution passed the Senate unanimously. It makes no sense for this material to return to Iraq when the vast majority of Iraqi Jews and their descendants live in the Diaspora. I hope that the Senate swiftly approves our resolution to once again urge the State Department to keep these artifacts in the United States.”
The Jewish artifacts “still belong where they can be preserved and accessed by the Jewish community and scholars, not returned to Iraq,” Schumer said in a statement. “These invaluable cultural treasures like a prayer book and Torah scrolls belong to the people and their descendants who were forced to leave them behind as they were exiled from Iraq. The State Department should make clear to the Iraqi government that the artifacts should continue to stay in the United States.”
In addition to Toomey, Schumer, and Blumenthal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is also co-sponsoring the bipartisan measure. PJC