There is something perverse about demands by the Iraqi government that the United States return a treasure trove of Torahs and Haggadahs stolen by Saddam Hussein from the oldest Jewish Diaspora community in the world, as reported by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post. ("Iraq seeks return of its Jewish archives" April 30, page A12)
After World War II, 150,000 Jews still lived in Iraq. By then, there had been a thriving, continuous Iraqi Jewish community for 2,600 years, dating back to the Babylonian exile. By 1951, however, amid systematic persecution, their numbers already dwindled to 6,000. In 1969, 11 Jews were hanged in the public squares of Baghdad. In 1973, $200 million worth of Jewish communal property was confiscated. Today, the number of Jews in Iraq is close to zero.
Yet, the Iraqi government has the effrontery to demand the return of Torahs and Haggadahs discovered by American soldiers in Saddam's secret police headquarters, claiming in the words of its ambassador to the U.S., Samir Sumaidale, that "they represent part of our history and part of our identity. It is time for our property to be repatriated."
Well, not so fast. When tens of thousands of Iraqi Jews, fleeing for their lives, were forced to abandon their most precious belongings, Israel welcomed them with open arms. Their Torahs and Haggadahs should be returned to them. Jews may have been an important part of Iraq's history, but I'm not aware that the Iraqi government is as eager for their return as it is in claiming their most precious religious possessions.