Wednesday, December 11, 2013

To Iraqi Jews, archive is their lost identity

With thanks to all those who emailed me on these items

 We tend to make a habit out of knocking the BBC - for  understandable reasons - but give the Beeb credit where it's due : it is the only UK medium so far to have covered the prickly subject of the Iraqi-Jewish archive.

 Here on Newshour (BBC World Service) is a rare gem - an interview with Iraqi Jew and ex-JJAC president Edwin Shuker. Listen here (at 35.1 minutes into the programme) for the few days remaining. To receive the sound file va email please write to

 However, the clip gets underway on the wrong footing, with Razia Iqbal, the presenter, trying to be neutral by saying that the wrangle over whether the Iraqi-Jewish archive should be returned to Iraq is a 'dispute born of war'.

 Edwin describes how on a recent visit to the National Archives exhibit in Washington DC, he turned a corner, there to be confronted with his school certificate. It was issued in 1967, at the time of the Six Day war. He started sobbing. He never imagined he would react with such emotion.

 Edwin's family had left Iraq with forged papers in 1971. It was a difficult time: They had left their house and contents intact. He had also left his precious identity behind. There it was again - staring back at him as a 12-year-old boy.

 The issue of the archive's planned return to Iraq next year had "galvanised the Iraqi Jewish community as never before,"Edwin Shuker says. "There is a buzz - even those who had never said a word are speaking out. If we fail (to prevent its return) it won't be for lack of trying," he adds.

It must be said that the return of the archive to Iraq ought to be resisted not because 95 percent of Iraqi Jews were stripped of their nationality: these Jews would not even be able to access the archive as tourists.

The BBC 'balances' Edwin Shuker with Saad Eskander, the director of the National Archives Library of Iraq, putative future home to the Jewish archive.

Mr Eskander seems to think it is up to Iraqi Jews if they want to 'forget' about their Iraqi heritage. Granted - The Saddam regime which had oppressed the Jews was no longer in power, but Mr Eskander does not seem to realise that in many ways, nothing has changed - Iraq is still as antisemitic as it always was.

BBCWatch post

 *Concordia News in Montreal does not have quite the same reach as the BBC, but below is a clip by Leah Balass on the Iraqi-Jewish archive.

Lisette Shashoua still has her school certificate and some photos, but thousands of other Jews have nothing of their lives in Iraq. "The archive in not Iraq's heritage, we are still alive - it belongs to us,"she asserts.

The other person interviewed, Sami Sourani, says that it would be a goodwill gesture by the Iraqi government if the Jewish community outside Iraq were allowed to keep the archive.


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