WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan measure to help safeguard roughly 2,700 Jewish artifacts discovered in Iraq in 2003. U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) believe the treasures - which include Torah parchments and ancient prayer books - should be housed in a location that is accessible to scholars and to Iraqi Jews and their descendants who have a personal interest in the artifacts.
American soldiers uncovered a collection of Jewish historical items stolen from Iraqi Jews by Saddam Hussein, who hid them in the basement of the Iraqi secret police headquarters. In 2003, the U.S. and the Coalition Provisional Authority signed an agreement whereby the U.S. would preserve the artifacts and then send them back to Iraq. The collection, which cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $3 million to preserve, is being displayed by the National Archives and Records Administration. The United States agreed to return the materials to Iraq in 2014, despite the fact that only a handful of Jews live in Iraq today.
"These priceless artifacts were stolen by the former government of Iraq," said Sen. Toomey. "We should not ship the collection back to a country where their owners no longer reside. With the passage of this bipartisan resolution, I am pleased all of our colleagues agree with me and Sens. Blumenthal and Schumer that the State Department should reexamine returning the collection to Iraq."
"I am thrilled that Sen. Toomey has undertaken this issue. The Iraqi Jewish Archive belongs with their original owners and their descendants, who as a result of years of persecution, no longer reside in Iraq," said Matt Handel, Chairman, Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.
"We appreciate Sen. Toomey's bipartisan leadership regarding the Iraqi Jewish Archive. There is no longer a Jewish community in Iraq and their artifacts were stolen from them, so I see no reason why we should send these precious Jewish artifacts back to Iraq," said Robin Schatz, Director of Government Affairs, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
"Sen. Toomey's leadership to ensure that thousands of priceless Jewish artifacts, such as Torah parchments, are housed in a central location-as opposed to Iraq - is much appreciated. There are very few Jews remaining in Iraq today. A central home for these artifacts will ensure accessibility for scholars and Iraqi Jews and their descendants, all of whom have a personal interest in the artifacts," said Jeffrey Finkelstein, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh.
"We are pleased to lend our support to the resolution proposed by Sen. Toomey which strongly recommends that the United States renegotiate the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq. Sen. Toomey has and continues to be an advocate for Israel. His latest effort to ensure that priceless Jewish artifacts are not returned to Iraq is appreciated. The former Iraqi government drove most of the Iraqi Jews out of the country. To this day, very few Jews call Iraq home. With this in mind, moving these artifacts to a centralized home will ensure that re-located Iraqi Jews and their descendants, and scholars will all be able to visit these priceless relics," said Margie Adelmann, CFO, Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg.
The National Archives and Records Administration opened an exhibit in Washington, D.C. that displayed 24 of the recovered objects from October 11, 2013 to January 5, 2014. The archive is also being displayed in New York City from February 4, 2014 to May 18, 2014. The archive is scheduled to be sent back to Iraq in June 2014.