(JTA) — An Israeli lawmaker doesn’t want a trove of Jewish artifacts returned to Iraq, and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure the United States to keep them out of the country.
Anat Berko, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said the materials belong in Israel. Discovered in the flooded basement of the Iraqi secret service headquarters by U.S. troops in 2003, the religious materials, books, personal documents and photographs have been restored and exhibited in the United States.
The State Department told JTA earlier this month that the archive will be returned to Iraq in September 2018, according to an agreement reached with the Iraqi government
“The archive belongs to Jews of Iraqi origin, and not to Iraqis who persecuted, expelled and drove out their Jewish citizens,” Berko, whose parents fled to Israel from Iraq, wrote in her letter Monday to Netanyahu.
Should diplomatic pressure fail, Berko wrote, Israel should hire an American law firm to pursue legal action to get the U.S. to renegotiate the initial agreement with Iraq.
“Maintaining the archive outside of Iraq is possible,” State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez told JTA in a statement earlier this month, “but would require a new agreement between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government.”
U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups have lobbied to keep the archive, which contains many items looted from Jewish homes, in a location accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants, who today live outside Iraq after being driven out of there amid intense persecution. Iraq and proponents of returning the archive say it can serve as an educational tool for Iraqis about the history of Jews there and that it is part of the country’s patrimony.