What had been a quiet murmur had become a roar.
Prominent politicians had joined in calling for the stolen Jewish documents found in the offices of Iraq’s intelligence building after the war to be returned to the community of Iraqi Jews around the world.
Even the media coverage was strongly favorable. Not even a normally biased media could make a case for arguing that everything from the school documents of Iraqi Jews to their sacred books should go back to Iraq.
Iraq demanded their return for increasingly conspiratorial reasons, like claiming that the Jews were out to argue ownership of the Tower of Babel. And Obama Inc. and the State Department punted on the documents.
Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily said in a statement Wednesday that Iraq “has authorized me to extend the period which the exhibit may remain in the United States.” The exhibit “has led to an increase of understanding between Iraq and United States and a greater recognition of the diverse heritage of Iraq,” he said.
“We look forward to completing the technical aspects of this extension with the Government of the United States within the coming days. Items which were among the material brought to the United States that are not part of the exhibit will return to Iraq in the very near future, as originally agreed,” said Faily.
An extension, of uncertain period, takes away the momentum of those looking to settle the archive situation. It means this entire case will have to be reargued all over again at an uncertain point in time.
This time around there won’t even be a specific timeline. Activists will have to watch carefully and wait.
Meanwhile some materials will be going back to Iraq anyway. A number of Jewish groups are celebrating this as a victory. The Point of Return blog claims that this is a face saving compromise and that the materials going back are either not from the Iraqi Jewish community or duplicates.
Although the exact terms of the agreement are yet to be confirmed, the vast majority of the material that constitutes the Iraqi Jewish Archive will remain in the US for an unspecified period. It is thought that the extension will be for two years.
Some duplicate Jewish books (such as the Aleph Bet primer, with more than 60 copies in the IJA collection) will be returned, as well as all the non-Jewish books and documents originally found with the IJA material in the basement of the secret police headquarters. WOJI says that these never belonged to Iraq’s Jewish Community in the first place, but were part of the Palestinian-Israeli Unit of the Iraqi intelligence HQ.
However, a statement released by the Iraqi embassy in Washington gives the impression that all the material except for the 24 items belonging to the ‘Discovery and Recovery’ exhibit will be returned. This statement might have been phrased for home consumption.
WOJI is reassuring its members that no duplicates will be returned if they have any kind of annotation written on any page. Such ‘annotated’ books have already been digitized. “We will work with the National Archives to identify duplicate items which can go back without controversy,” Maurice Shohet, WOJI’s chairman, has declared.
This whole thing is reliant on insider information and is obviously at variance with the formal statement of Iraq. And the blog states that the exact details have yet to be confirmed.
Whatever the story is, it’s clear that parts of the archive are going back immediately, including some Jewish parts of it, and the compromise to extend the archive is itself temporary.
It may provide more time to digitize more portions of the archive which will make them available for study, but will not return private materials to their Jewish owners.
Furthermore the archive contains religiously sacred material that cannot simply by digitized. Some of these artifacts were already given a burial due to their damaged state and presumably no one will be digging them up.
With the instability in Syria, this was a good time to arrange for a final deal. Instead the issue has now been pushed back, conveniently, to the end of the Obama administration which will make it easier to turn over the archive as by then, Obama will care even less about public opinion than he does now.