Following an international lobbying campaign conducted by several members of Congress and prominent American Jewish organizations, the Iraqi government announced this week that it will allow the country’s Jewish Archive remain in the United States indefinitely.
Until recently, State Department officials had insisted that the archive — a treasure trove of items, some of them centuries old, rescued by U.S. troops in the water-logged basement of Iraq’s intelligence agency in Baghdad in 2003 — would return to Iraq as pledged under a subsequent bilateral agreement.
Some of the items were part of an exhibition that was presented at the National Archives in Washington last November, following years of repair and restoration work by the National Archives and Records Administration. The exhibition then moved to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
“In order to continue this important work and to allow the exhibit to be displayed in other cities in the United States, the Government of Iraq has authorized me to extend the period which the exhibit may remain in the United States,” Lukman Fally, the Iraqi ambassador to Washington, said in a statement posted May 14 on the embassy website.
“We consider the history of Jewish communities in Iraq to be an integral part of the history of our country — one that we honor and cherish — and nothing can erase this history, nor change our commitment to preserving its memory,” he said. “For us as Iraqis, it is important to recover this precious piece of our cultural heritage that documents an era of our country’s history.”
Fally did not say for how long the extension was, nor did he say which cities would host it.
According to the agreement reached between the State Department of State and Iraq, the exhibition is expected to travel to other American museums in the coming months.
“Ensuring that this invaluable collection of Iraqi Jewish items remains accessible is a paramount concern,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of International Jewish Affairs. “Extending the exhibit’s schedule and making it available to other American communities will benefit all who have interest in the history of Iraq’s Jews.”
“The historical and religious value of the Iraqi Jewish Archive materials compel us to ensure that the archive should remain in the United States where it will be easily accessible to all, particularly the Iraqi Jewish community now living in Diaspora around the world,” a statement by the Orthodox Union said.
Other groups that advocated for keeping the archive outside of Iraq include the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) led a congressional effort on this issue.