State Department Plans to rob Iraqi Jews

For 2,500 years, Jews played a prominent role in Iraq. By 1940, the Iraqi Jewish community numbered 137,000 people. In Baghdad, they made up a quarter of the population. For centuries, Iraq was a major center of Jewish learning. The Babylonian Talmud was written there. According to a Muslim author, Iraqi Jews were leaders in virtually every field. Iraq's most famous musicians and composers were Jews. Business shut down on Saturdays because it was the Jewish Shabbat.

Then in the 1930s came the rise of Nazism that permeated the Arab world. In 1941, a pogrom claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews. Jewish homes, shops, and businesses were destroyed. In 1948, Iraq joined a pan-Arab invasion of Israel.

More than 120,000 Jews fled Iraq, mainly to Israel. A few thousand remained to protect religious and other properties. All communal documents and holy books were hidden in the only remaining synagogue. But in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein stole the entire archive in an admittedly deliberate act to humiliate Jews. When Saddam was overthrown after 9/11, Harold Rhode, a Pentagon cultural expert, found the Jewish archive in the cellar of Saddam's secret police. Thanks to Rhode, ancient texts, school records, 500-year-old Bibles were saved and sent to the U.S.

The State Department spent $3 million on restoration of 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents. Some of them are currently on exhibit at the National Archives.

But as Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick points out, the miracle of the archive's survival will come to a tragic and scandalous end next year -- "In an act of cultural aggression, the U.S. government has promised to return the Jewish communal archive -- stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community by the Iraqi government -- to the Iraqi government by June 2014."

The State Department mindset for this unbelievable outrage is that since the archive was found in an Iraqi government building, it needs to be returned to the government of Iraq.

By this logic, of course, there should have been no restitution of Jewish property found in Gestapo dungeons. Nor has it occurred to the State Department that Jews cannot enter or safely live in Iraq. The only legal owners of the archive are Iraqi Jews and their descendants. The only logical place for the archive is in Israel's Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center.

"At this point," Caroline Glick writes, "it would be a great miracle if they would just agree to keep it safe in Washington until an American government comes along that decides to base its Middle East policies on the truth."

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers