Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Send the archive back to where it belongs?

 Sigal Samuel... provocative

It had to happen. Sooner or later, someone was going to write a provocative article arguing that the Iraqi-Jewish archive ought to be sent back to Baghdad. (Ben Cohen did entertain that idea fleetingly, but had the good sense to see it was a pipe-dream). Not so Sigal Samuel ( who until recently worked for the Daily Beast's Open Zion), writing in the Forward.  My 'fisking' appears in italics:    

Jewish organizations want Congress to renegotiate the agreement, and they’re pushing a resolution that now has 10 co-sponsors in the Senate. They, and many of the Iraqi Jews present at the New York opening, believe the trove should stay in America.

As an Iraqi Jew, I couldn’t disagree more.

Funny - Sigal Samuel can be Moroccan when she chooses.

The three main arguments for keeping the trove here go something like this. First, Iraq stole these artifacts from the Jews; that makes these Jews (or their descendants) their rightful owners. Second, Iraq persecuted its Jews to the point of extinction; why should they get to keep our things? Third, nowadays only about five Jews remain in Iraq, a country that most of world Jewry cannot easily visit; shouldn’t the artifacts be kept someplace accessible?

My response? No, no and no.

However much we as Iraqi Jews may resent having had this property stolen from us (and believe me, I’m not pleased about it), the only reason we’re seeing it now is because the State Department got it out of Iraq by promising, ultimately, to send it back there. There’s a word for people who take stuff, promise to return it, and then don’t. It’s called stealing.

It's not stealing if the so-called owner stole the stuff in the first place.

It’s also called cultural imperialism. Hauling these precious artifacts out of Iraq and into an American gallery brings to mind the Egyptian artifacts that were taken out of their native country to fill the display halls of the British Museum. After all that the U.S. forces did in Iraq — including creating the unstable conditions that led to the plundering of that country’s National Museum in 2003 — we should blush at the thought of expropriating this archive for our own museums.

This trove is not remotely comparable to Egyptian artefacts. It is a random collection of private and communal Jewish property of no interest to anyone else.

To those who argue that Iraq viciously persecuted its Jews, I say: Trust me, I know. My Baghdadi grandfather and his brother were so desperate to escape the persecution that followed the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that they sneaked out of Iraq and into Israel.

But this period of horrible mistreatment doesn’t mean we should empty the country of Jewish artifacts. Spain persecuted and ultimately expelled its Jews in 1492. That doesn’t mean I want all remnants of Spanish Jewish life hauled out of there and into the U.S. Same goes for Germany. Same goes for a lot of countries.

But in this case, many of the owners are still alive.

As for the accessibility argument, I understand that returning the archive to Iraq would make it difficult or impossible for most Jews — particularly Israelis — to safely access it. But even though I myself am saddled with an Israeli name and citizenship, I still don’t think this is an argument for keeping the archive in the U.S. I think it’s an argument for digitization — a process that’s already underway. Or it’s an argument for setting up loans, which would allow the exhibit to be housed permanently in Iraq but travel every few years to this or that Jewish population center.

The largest Iraqi-Jewish population center is Israel. How would the Iraqis like to loan the archive to the Zionist entity?

In digital-age America, we take it for granted that everything we love should be at our fingertips. But relinquishing that luxury sometimes comes with distinct advantages. When it comes to returning this trove to Iraq, the advantages are clear: There, it will serve a vital educational purpose, both for world Jewry and for non-Jewish Iraq.

I fail to see how returning the archive to Iraq would educate world Jewry outside Iraq. As for non-Jewish Iraq, it retains its instability, even without help from the Americans. What guarantees are there that the archive would not be allowed to rot, be destroyed or sold off to the highest bidder? Sadly, there is a precedent for all three.

Returning the archive will remind world Jewry that we once thrived in Arab countries like Iraq, where we wrote the foundational Babylonian Talmud and established the legendary yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita. In an era when the Ashkenazi narrative still dominates over Sephardi and Mizrachi ones, it’s important to decentralize our idea of what Judaism looks like and of where it can, and did, flourish. Placing actual geographical distance between this archive and us can help us internalize the fact that — guess what? — Manhattan isn’t the cradle of all of Jewish civilization. And in an era when the Arab world is consistently depicted as Jew-hating, physically locating this trove in Arab space can help us recall that we ourselves once lived there very happily indeed.

It’s also important to remind the Iraqis that we were there — in their banks, governments, academies and art scenes. With nationalist regimes, there’s always the worry that the shapers of collective memory will begin to write Jews out of their history books. This archive will help preempt that erasure.

You're too late Sigal. Jews have already been written out of Middle Eastern history.

 It will also remind Iraqis of the horror they wrought when they destroyed our community. Much like we prompt Europe to remember Kristallnacht, we should prompt Iraq to remember the 1941 Farhud pogrom carried out against Baghdadi Jews, by keeping — not removing — facts on the ground.

But Iraqis are not ready to remember the Iraqi Farhud. Iraq remains a virulently antisemitic country. Unlike Europe,  and with the exception of a few intellectuals, the Arabs have not yet come to terms with what they did to their Jews. 

Read article in full


Orfan said...

The archive should "Never" be sent back to Iraq! Perhaps the best place for it is here in Israel~housed and preserved as in the Shrine of the Book~and available for all to see, perhaps even like the scrolls be made available online. Not my decision, but every Jew should oppose sending them to Iraq!

SyrianJew said...

Leftists make me laugh.......or cry

"It will also remind Iraqis of the horror they wrought when they destroyed our community."

LMAO...Seriously it's so apparent that these dhimmi Jews have absolutely no contact with Arabs or Muslims.

Iraqis are never going to feel sorry for what happened to Iraqi Jews, because they refuse to believe that they destroyed the community. It's all a Zionist conspiracy. Zionism aside, the supremacist teachings of Islam would never allow for a national feeling of remorse. Name one Muslim country that has ever expressed remorse for historical atrocities? It will never happen.

Dhimmi Jews.....I'm always looking forward to the next absurd, suicidal idea that comes out of their mouths

Anonymous said...

Syrian Jew is absolutely right. only once a corresondent told me it's Nasser"s fault!!!
But now they have Christians to harass

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

the absurdity of her arguments reminds me of Roger Cohen's absurd articles about Iran. Roger Cohen is a paid spokesman for the US power elite [through the New York Times]. And she is writing as if she were an Obama administration spokesperson. In fact, writing for Open Zion (run by Peter Beinart) and the Forward shows that she is an Obama administration mouthpiece. We will likely hear more ridiculous arguments against returning the Jewish artifacts back to the Iraqi Jews. Obama and the State Dept do not want the Jews to have their own property back. They want to humiliate Jews. We will hear more voice like this young woman's.

Anonymous said...

Her idea is outstanding, especially if and when she offers to drliver the property back to its Iraqi warehouse or display and hen interview local interest in the Iraqi treasures.

Sylvia said...

" It will also remind Iraqis of the horror they wrought when they destroyed our community."

If nothing else, at least she has a healthy sense of humor.