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.”
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 PJMedia.com. “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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