Friday, October 25, 2013

Experts at odds on archive's legal standing

As the campaign to stop the Jewish archive going back to Iraq gathers pace, The Jewish Weekly examines what legal arguments might be used to recovery it for the Iraqi Jewish community. Legal experts are at odds over its 'legal standing'. (With thanks: Michelle Malca)

Stanley Urman, executive vice president of JJAC, cites the legal principle “jus ex injuria non oritur,” which in international law means that a state cannot assert legal rights to property illegally obtained. “[The materials] were seized from Jewish institutions, schools and the community. There is no justification or logic in sending these Jewish archives back to Iraq, a place that has virtually no Jews, no interest in Jewish heritage and no accessibility to Jewish scholars.”

Haggadah from 1902, hand-lettered and decorated by an Iraqi youth photos/u.s. national archives and records administration
Haggadah from 1902, hand-lettered and decorated by an Iraqi youth photos/u.s. national archives and records administration
According to former Pentagon analyst Harold Rhode, who was with the U.S. military when it discovered the materials in 2003, international law forbids a nation from removing the patrimony of another country, even when captured in war.

But he contends that these particular treasures were never Iraq’s to begin with, and he castigated the United States for promising to return them.

“The Iraqi government ‘acquired’ this material by stealing it from the Jewish community and by persecuting a minority religious population,” he wrote in a post at “It is the Iraqi government which has no provenance. It is stolen property.”

Charles Goldstein disagrees. As counsel to the Commission for Art Recovery, he is an expert on restitution of Holocaust-looted art. Though personally sympathetic to JIMENA and its allies, Goldstein said they have no legal standing to demand the materials remain in the United States.

“This is not a legal issue,” he said. “It is not normally a violation of international law when a country takes property from its own citizens. That may be different if you can prove discriminatory taking without compensation, which may be the case here, but each individual [owner] would have to make a claim. A claim cannot be made by the Jewish community abroad.”

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1 comment:

BillyBoy Moskowitz said...

The opinion of Mr Goldstein "an expert on restitution of Holocaust looted art" is ironic. He claims that in an unlawful taking, each individual would have to make a claim. But that was never a requirement for holocaust looted property, only for returning property to the actual owners. No one ever suggested that Nazi seized property remain in Germany simply because their owners were now dead. Additionally, to claim that the taking of property without compensation is not a violation of international law is to ignore the basic protections that international law is meant to provide individuals from corrupt and tyrannical governments.