I saw something amazing today. The National Archives of the United States, which
houses the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, hosted an
exhibition of more than 2,700 Iraqi Jewish artifacts – including Torah
parchments and ancient prayer books – from a Baghdad synagogue that was looted
at gunpoint by Saddam Hussein in 1984. The treasures were discovered in 2003 by
US troops in the basement of the Baghdad Intelligence Agency.
of the treasure was orchestrated by former Pentagon analyst and orthodox Jew
Harold Rhode, whose name is on the metal boxes that were shipped from Baghdad
but who is curiously not mentioned once in the exhibit. I’m told it’s the first
time the National Archives has hosted a collection that is not native to the
The US spent approximately $3 million to restore the badly
damaged documents and did a spectacular job. But there’s a catch. Our government
made a commitment to the government of Iraq that it would return the collection
once it was restored. America’s Iraqi Jewish community is now asserting
Let’s be clear. This is not something that belongs to the
Iraqi government. It was looted by Saddam Hussein and should be returned to its
rightful owner, the Jewish community of Iraq, who now find themselves mostly in
Israel (between 250,000- 400,000) and the United States. That the US is even
considering returning the collection is incredible. Our government contends that
it made a commitment to the Iraqis before they took the documents to restore
But you can’t make any commitments about property that doesn’t
belong to you, so the US is not bound by its commitment.
We’ve had enough
property looted and stolen from the Jewish community in recent history to
condone any more, and the Jewish community in the US should organize politically
and fight any attempt to return the collection.
But this just begs the
bigger question of the Iraqi government’s lack of sensitivity, if not outright
contempt, for things Jewish.
Former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi
stated to the world, as early as 2004, that the new Iraqi government would not
reconcile in any way with Israel, with whom Iraq had technically been in a state
of war since 1948. The current Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, reiterated
the policy, pledging for his nation to establish diplomatic ties with every
sovereign United Nations member state, except one – Israel.
announced Iraq would not have anything else to do with Israel, be it cultural,
military, or economic. For good measure the prime minister’s Dawa Party went
further and called on all Islamic countries to sever any and all relations with
Really? Are we back to this kind of hate-Israel-
even-when-have-yourself- experienced-Arab-tyranny nonsense? But what is truly
horrible is the thought that the American people gave the Iraqis their liberty
only to see their government become a gang of anti-Semites.
The US should
have imposed a peace treaty with Israel on Iraq from the outset. Our government
spent $1 trillion and lost close to 4,500 heroic American lives liberating Iraq.
We did not do it so they could be xenophobic Israel-haters. The vast majority of
Americans are supporters and admirers of Israel and would be appalled to
discover that a steady stream of anti-Israeli invective is seeping out of
When we Americans liberated Iraq we didn’t ask them for their
oil and we didn’t ask to be reimbursed for the unprecedented expenditure and
loss of life. But what we certainly deserve is for Iraq to embrace the
universal, humanitarian values that make America exceptional. Irrational hatred
of Jews and Israel is not an American value and our soldiers did not die for
Iraq to become a bunch of bigots.
In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion,
Israel’s Jewish Agency attempted to find any Jews remaining in Iraq for the
purpose of relocating them to safety in Israel. Of the grand total of 34 Jews
that were discovered, six left Iraq for Israel.
Among that group was Ezra
Levy, the father of Emad Levy, Baghdad’s last rabbi. In 2006, amid growing
sectarian violence and political instability, Emad himself left for Israel for
fear of his life.
After the defeat of Saddam’s regime, the process of
establishing a new democratic government began. Among the subjects for debate
over the new constitution was whether Jews should be considered a minority
group, or left out of the constitution altogether. With approximately five Jews
left in a country that once boasted over 120,000, most of whom left after
massacres that followed the establishment of Israel in 1948, Iraq today is
The Iraqi government seems to forget that many
Jewish voices – my own included – called for the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Not
because, as Protocols of Zion-minded bigots argued, we Jews wanted to protect
Israel. Israel at the time was probably more focused on Iran as a menace, just
as it is today. Rather, we Jews live by the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not
stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”
Saddam Hussein, according to
even The New York Times which opposed the American invasion, killed
approximately 1.1 million people, including 800,000 Arabs, making him the single
biggest murderer of Arabs in all of human history.
He also gassed to
death tens of thousands of children in Halabja in April, 1988. As the world’s
foremost killer, he had no right to run a country.
The Iraqi government
seems scarcely appreciative of the central role Jewish voices played in their
They can start by forfeiting any claim to looted Iraqi Jewish
treasure which, if not for the benevolence of the United States, would have
rotted in Saddam’s intelligence dungeons.
The author, “America’s Rabbi,”
whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,”
is the founder of This World: The Values Network, and is the international
best-selling author of 30 books. He will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love is
Not the Answer. Follow him on