By signing Memorandums of Understanding with Arab countries blockading the import of artefacts, the US government is legitimising the theft of Jewish and minority property by Arab governments. On the other hand, the US government is committed to returning Jewish documents, stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community, to the country which persecuted them. Here is an extract of an article in the Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter by lawyer and activist Carole Basri, who has a personal stake in the so-called Iraqi-Jewish archive.
Detail from a Haggadah found in the ‘Iraq-Jewish archive’
In May 2003, over 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents, records, and religious artifacts were discovered by a U.S. Army team in the flooded basement of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters. The written records provide a better understanding of the 2700 year-old Iraqi Jewish community. The Jewish Iraqi Archive was brought to the U.S. to be preserved, cataloged, and digitized, and has been exhibited in various cities for several years.
Based on an agreement signed on August 19, 2003 between the Coalition Pro-visional Authority and the National Archives and Records Administration, and extended by the U.S. Government in an Executive Order by President Obama, the Iraqi Jewish Archive was to have been returned to Iraq after September 2018. Then on a parallel track, but unbeknownst to the Iraqi Jewish community, Congress amended the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 in 2008 to include import restrictions on Jewish artifacts. These import restrictions included Torahs and other Jewish artifacts made on or before 1990.
After this, the U.S. State Department put together separate Memoranda of Understanding regarding Jewish religious and cultural artifacts from Syria, Egypt and Libya. If followed, Jewish cultural and religious artifacts could be returned to countries that have engaged in ethnically cleansing their Jewish communities.
The Iraqi Jewish Archive should be understood in relation to the Emergency Protection Act as well as the recent Memoranda of Understanding made by the U.S. State Department with Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya. Additionally, the Red List with Yemen and the pending Memorandum of Understanding with Algeria should be taken into account.
The critical issue concerns whether the U.S. Government should be complicit in returning religious and cultural property from ethnically cleansed Jews to the very countries that have persecuted them. On August 29, 2018, Members of Congress Tom MacArthur, Daniel M. Donovan Jr., and Yvette D. Clarke called on President Trump to “revisit and reconsider the United States’ position regarding this matter, and not to implement any current plans that would result in these Jewish treasures being returned to the custody of the Iraqi government.”4 By extension, to return Jewish cultural treasures to other countries which ethnically cleansed Jews such as Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Algeria should be revisited and reconsidered.
Concerning Iraq, the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 (Title III of Public Law 108-429) as amended effective April 30, 2008, desig-nates the types of imports restricted, in Section IX, F, including Torahs on parchment made on or before 1990.
The April 30, 2013 amendment notes that “There have been active Jewish communities in Iraq since at least 586 BC. Torahs used in these communities are parchment scrolls bearing Hebrew writing in black ink. The scroll is wound around two wooden rods, and metal finials may cover the tops of the rods. The Torah is housed in a cylindrical case of wood that may be decorated with inscriptions and/or semi-precious stones.”
Concerning Syria, the Public Law 114-151 applies to Syria as of August 15, 2016 for Jewish religious and cultural artifacts including, specifically, Torah scrolls written on or before 1920 AD. According to the Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 157, Monday August 15, 2016 pg. 53919, Section IX. Parchment, Paper, and Leather, Parchment A. 2, “” Further, Section X. Painting and Drawing, A. 2, includes a reference to “Jewish paintings may include iconography such as meno-rahs.” Additionally, Section XII. Writing includes writing “[o]n paper, parchment, leather, wood, ivory, stone, metal, textile, stucco, clay, mosaic, painting, and ceramic, in pictographic, cuneiform, Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Arabic scripts.”
Concerning Egypt, the Memorandum of Understanding is effective as of Decem-ber 5, 2016 for religious artifacts includ-ing Torahs created on or before 1517 AD. The Egyptian import restrictions imposed on December 6, 2016 in Federal Register, Vol 81. No. 234 (December 6, 2016) pg. 87809 covers in Section X. Papyrus “[s]crolls, books, manuscripts, and documents, including religious, ceremonial, literary, and administrative texts. Scripts include hieroglyphic, hieratic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic and Arabic.” And Section XIII. Writing covers “[o]n papyrus, wood, ivory, stone, metal, textile, clay, and ceramic, in hieroglyphic, hieratic, Aramaic, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Arabic scripts.”
Concerning Libya, the Memorandum of Understanding with Libya signed on February 23, 2018 had a hearing at the US State Department on July 19, 2017 after publishing a notice in the Federal Regis-ter on June 16, 2017 for hearings on religious artifacts including writings on parchment made on or before 1911 AD. According to the presidential memorandum signed by President Donald J. Trump on February 9, 2018 known as the Notice Regarding the Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Libya,
On February 25, 2011, by Executive Order 13566, the President [Obama] declared a national emergency to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701‑1706) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and his close associates, which took extreme measures against the people of Libya, includ-ing using weapons of war, mercenaries, and wanton violence against unarmed civilians. In addition, there was a serious risk that Libyan state assets would be misappropri-ated by Qadhafi, members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates. The foregoing circumstances, the pro-longed attacks against civilians, and the increased numbers of Libyans seeking refuge in other countries caused a deterioration in the security of Libya and posed a serious risk to its stability.
The situation in Libya continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the [United States] national security and foreign policy, and [according to President Trump] measures are needed to protect against the diversion of assets or other abuses by members of Qadhafi’s family, their associates, and others hindering Libyan national reconciliation:
“For this reason, the national emergency declared on February 25, 2011, must continue in effect beyond February 25, 2018. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am con-tinuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13566.”
This presidential memorandum on Libya regarding the national security emergency with Libya was signed by President Trump less than two weeks before the signing of the Libyan Memorandum of Understanding.
The full article can be read at the Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter (Fall 2018)