Archive for the ‘Trump vs State Department’ category

Stupidity or malice? The US plans to return stolen Jewish artifacts to Iraq

September 12, 2017

Stupidity or malice? The US plans to return stolen Jewish artifacts to Iraq | Anne’s Opinions, 12th September 2017

Looted Jewish artifacts from Iraq

When the news hit the headlines this week that the US plans to return Jewish artifacts to Iraq – artifacts, it should be noted, that were stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community by the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and rescued by US forces – I thought the story sounded familiar. A quick search on my blog revealed that this decision had already been discussed 4 years ago! To be honest, I thought that this absurd decision to return the artifacts to their unlawful owners had been shelved once Donald Trump became President. Sadly this is not the case.

The JTA reports:

NEW YORK (JTA) — The United States will return to Iraq next year a trove of Iraqi Jewish artifacts that lawmakers and Jewish groups have lobbied to keep in this country, a State Department official said.

A four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018, as is funding for maintaining and transporting the items. The materials will then be sent back to Iraq, spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement sent to JTA on Thursday.

Rodriguez said the State Department “is keenly aware of the interest in the status” of the archive.

“Maintaining the archive outside of Iraq is possible,” he said, “but would require a new agreement between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government.”

Detail of Tik (Torah case) and Glass Panel from Baghdad, 19th-20th centuries, part of the Iraqi Jewish Archive. (National Archives)

The archive was brought to America in 2003 after being salvaged by U.S. troops. It contains tens of thousands of items including books, religious texts, photographs and personal documents. Under an agreement with the government of Iraq, the archive was to be sent back there, but in 2014 the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. said its stay had been extended. He did not say when the archive was to return.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Jewish groups have lobbied to renegotiate the deal, arguing that the documents should be kept in the U.S. or elsewhere where they are accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants. JTA reached out to lawmakers who have sponsored resolutions urging a renegotiation of the archive’s return but did not hear back in time for publication.

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.

Addressing the points that I highlighted above in bold, Caroline Glick scathingly attacks the “State Department’s strange obsession” while also answering the question in my headline:

The law of Occam’s Razor, refined to common parlance, is that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

If we apply Occam’s Razor to recently reported positions of the US State Department, then we can conclude that the people making decisions at Foggy Bottom have “issues” with Jews and with Israel.

The books and documents were looted from the Iraqi Jewish community by successive Iraqi regimes. They were restored by the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Before Treatment: Passover Haggadah, 1902. One of very few Hebrew manuscripts recovered from the Mukhabarat, this Haggadah was hand-lettered and decorated by an Iraqi youth.

The Iraqi Jewish community was one of the oldest exilic Jewish communities.

It began with the Babylonian exile following the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem 2,600 years ago. Until the early 20th century, it was one of the most accomplished Jewish communities in the world. Some of the most important yeshivas in Jewish history were in present-day Iraq. The Babylonian Talmud was written in Iraq. The Jewish community in Iraq predated the current people of Iraq by nearly a thousand years.

It was a huge community. In 1948, Jews were the largest minority in Baghdad.

Jews comprised a third of the population of Basra. The status of the community was imperiled during World War II, when the pro-Nazi junta of generals that seized control of the government in 1940 instigated the Farhud, a weeklong pogrom. 900 Jews were murdered.

Thousands of Jewish homes, schools and businesses were burned to the ground.

With Israel’s establishment, and later with the Baathist seizure of power in Iraq in the 1960s, the once great Jewish community was systematically destroyed.

Between 1948 and 1951, 130,000 Iraqi Jews, three quarters of the community, were forced to flee the country. Those who remained faced massive persecution, imprisonment, torture, execution and expulsion in the succeeding decades.

When US forces overthrew the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, only a dozen or so remained in the country.

Today, there are none left.

As for the current Iraqi government that the State Department wishes to support by implementing its 2014 agreement, it is an Iranian satrapy. Its leadership and military receive operational orders from Iran.

The Iraqi Jewish archive was not created by the Iraqi government. It is comprised of property looted from persecuted and fleeing Jews. In light of this, it ought to be clear to the State Department that the Iraqi government’s claim to ownership is no stronger than the German government’s claim to ownership of looted Jewish property seized by the Nazis would be.

On the other hand, members of the former Jewish community and their descendants have an incontrovertible claim to them. And they have made this claim, repeatedly.

To no avail. As far as the State Department is concerned, they have no claim to sacred books and documents illegally seized from them.

When asked how the US could guarantee that the archive would be properly cared for in Iraq, all State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said was, “When the IJA [Iraqi Jewish archive] is returned, the State Department will urge the Iraqi government to take the proper steps necessary to preserve the archive, and make it available to members of the public to enjoy.”

It is hard not to be taken aback by the callousness of Rodriguez’s statement.

Again, the “members of the public” who wish to “enjoy” the archive are not living in Iraq. They are not living in Iraq because they were forced to run for their lives – after surrendering their communal archives to their persecutors. And still today, as Jews, they will be unable to visit the archives in Iraq without risking their lives because today, at a minimum, the Iraqi regime kowtows to forces that openly seek the annihilation of the Jewish People.

And the State Department knows this.

The question then arises, surely this new American administration under President Donald Trump would be more sympathetic to Jewish concerns, and would overturn this surreal decision made by the Obama administration?

Apparently it’s not so clear-cut. It appears that Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly has been blocking most conservative news sites from reaching Trump, thus limiting his awareness of what is happening outside of his immediate circle (h/t Dan Miller in Panama).

Daniel Greenfield reiterates his call to the President – which he made in 2013 to Barack Obama (and which I quoted in my blog post at the time) – and demands that Trump should block Obama’s move to return these stolen artifacts to Iraq: (emphases are added):

… The archive doesn’t belong to the Iraqi government, but to the Jewish population that was ethnically cleansed from Iraq.

The United States recovered the archive and should have turned it over to the Jewish community. Instead we had a bizarre Kafkaesque process in which the archive was restored to be turned over to the thieves who stole it.

Jewish political leaders have invested a lot of energy into looted art in Europe. And that’s a worthwhile cause. Yet this is a far more compelling issue. The archive contains the history of a Jewish community. It matters far more than a Klimt painting. Sadly, the priorities are those of a secular Ashkenazi leadership that is uninterested in the Iraqi Jewish archive because it’s Sephardi and religious.

“This is Jewish communal property. Iraq stole it and kept it hidden away in a basement. Now that we’ve managed to reclaim it, it would be like returning stolen goods back to the thief,” Urman told JTA on Friday.

It’s exactly like it. Meanwhile here’s the bizarre anti-Semitic justification on the Iraqi side for wanting the archive. Here’s Al Arabiya’s explanation

Experts add that Israel is keen on obtaining the manuscripts in order to prove their claim that the Jews had built the Tower of Babel as part of its attempt to distort the history of the Middle East for its own interests.


Harold Rhode, who discovered the trove while working as a Defense Department policy analyst assigned to Iraq’s transitional government, said he is “horrified” to think the material would be returned when it had been “stolen by the government of Iraq from the Jewish community.”

“It would be comparable to the U.S. returning to the German government Jewish property that had been looted by the Nazis,” he told The Jewish Week.

It’s exactly like it.

I don’t expect Tillerson to care. Between McMaster at the NSC, Mattis on Defense and Tillerson, foreign policy is under the control of the usual Islam Firsters who are very concerned with Muslim feelings, particularly in the oil states, and very little else. And so the old Obama plan to turn over stolen Jewish religious items to a hostile Islamic regime is moving forward.

But President Trump can and should block the move. It’s the right thing to do. And Jewish activists should make that case.

If at the end the State Department’s decision cannot be overcome by President Trump’s executive veto (or whatever it is called in American politics), we can safely say that this decision is motivated more by malice than stupidity.

As before in 2013, there is a petition (possibly still the same one) which you should all sign, demanding that the artifacts do not return to Iraq.

Please sign and share the petition.

Tillerson State Dept. Demanding Israel Hand Back Millions in U.S. Military Aid

September 12, 2017

Tillerson State Dept. Demanding Israel Hand Back Millions in U.S. Military Aid, Washington Free Beacon, , September 11, 2017

(Please see also, Trump Admin Considering Demanding Israel Give Back Key U.S. Military Aid and Trump Should Block Obama Move to Send Stolen Jewish Religious Artifacts to Iraq. Who is running the State Department and what does President Trump have to do with it? What about the Executive Branch as a whole?)– DM)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson / Getty Images

The matter has fueled tensions between the White House and State Department, which have found themselves at odds on a range of key issues, including the U.S.-Israel alliance, the Iran portfolio, and other matters. Sources who spoke to the Free Beacon about the standoff have described Foggy Bottom as being in “open war” with the West Wing.

There are always multiple overlapping camps of career staffers, professional lawyers, and political appointees. But no matter what the topic, you can count on Tillerson, his chief of staff, and his senior Obama holdovers to take the opposite side of whatever the president wants.”


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been pushing the Trump White House to demand that Israel give back to the United States millions of dollars in military aid, prompting pushback in the West Wing and further fueling ongoing tensions between Foggy Bottom and the White House over a range of key diplomatic issues, according to multiple sources briefed on the situation.

The Washington Free Beacon first reported on Friday that the State Department has been lobbying the White House to call for Israel to hand back some $75 million in U.S. military aid that was awarded to the Jewish state above the Obama administration’s financial request in 2016.

The former administration came under fire from congressional leaders and the pro-Israel community for conditioning U.S. military aid—a cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel alliance—on a provision that bars Israel from lobbying Congress for increased aid as a range of conflicts in the Middle East develop.

While Congress initially rebelled against this provision, and held up the Obama-era aid package in revolt, Tillerson is said to be lobbying for Israel to give back the additional aid to keep the country in line with the Obama administration’s 2016 agreement, known as the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU.

Multiple sources who spoke to the Free Beacon said Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, personally called White House National Security Council official Dina Powell to relay Tillerson’s position, which is said to have conflicted with the advice of career State Department officials who work on the Israel portfolio.

Tillerson spokesperson R.C. Hammond categorically denied these calls took place in a subsequent conversation with the Free Beacon.

Powell is said to have balked at the request and told Peterlin that any such move would have to be cleared with President Donald Trump, these sources told the Free Beacon.

Tillerson has been hoping to lobby in favor of calling on Israel to return the aid money during a meeting at the White House, according to these sources.

Knowledge of this discussion, initially disclosed by the Free Beacon, roiled pro-Israel congressional leaders and sparked Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) to contact the White House to register his opposition.

Cotton “strongly warned the State Department” last week “that such action would be unwise and would invite unwanted conflict with Israel,” according to one senior congressional aide familiar with the situation.

It is unclear exactly where the issue stands presently, as the White House NSC and State Department declined to comment on the situation when approached by the Free Beacon.

The matter has fueled tensions between the White House and State Department, which have found themselves at odds on a range of key issues, including the U.S.-Israel alliance, the Iran portfolio, and other matters. Sources who spoke to the Free Beacon about the standoff have described Foggy Bottom as being in “open war” with the West Wing.

One veteran official with a major pro-Israel organization who has been working on the issue told the Free Beacon that Tillerson appears to adopting opposite policies of those endorsed by Trump.

“There are always debates inside the State Department over things like Israel, Iran, and the Gulf,” the source said, speaking only on background about the sensitive matter. “There are always multiple overlapping camps of career staffers, professional lawyers, and political appointees. But no matter what the topic, you can count on Tillerson, his chief of staff, and his senior Obama holdovers to take the opposite side of whatever the president wants.”

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Iran certification, or the Qatar crisis, or Israel—they always choose the competing recommendation that’s against the president,” the source said.

It appears that on the Israel aid issue, Tillerson deferred to the opinions of State Department lawyers, who say Israel should hand back the $75 million in order to keep it in line with the Obama-era MOU.

This position was chosen over the advice of longtime State Department officials working on the Israel portfolio, according to multiple sources who pointed to the Free Beacon‘s initial Friday report about the situation as sparking an internal war between these factions.

While some initially believed the call for Israel to hand back the aid originated with these career staffers, it is actually Tillerson and his staff who are pushing for Israel to hand back the aid.

“In this case they used career lawyers to shut down State’s Middle East team, which knew the money was a nothing burger,” said the pro-Israel official. “But when they called up the White House to make the recommendation, Dina [Powell] immediately said it would have to go to the president.”

Powell and others are said to have viewed the situation “as an attempt by Tillerson to sneak through policies that are not what President Trump believes,” according to the source, who echoed information provided by administration insiders and others. “And that’s before we even get to the communications team at the top of the State Department, which is a clusterfuck of such monumental size and shape it can be seen from space.”

As the story was developing late Friday, the State Department declined to explain to lawmakers and reporters the context of the internal divisions between the advice of career officials and lawyers.

A State Department official, speaking only on background, told the Free Beacon that “Israel is a valued ally” and that the administration “is committed to ensuring that Israel receives the assistance that has been appropriated by Congress.”

However, the official could not comment on internal deliberations and conversations that may have taken place surrounding the issue.

Hammond denied any such conversations took place, disputing the multiple sources who independently described them to the Free Beacon.

“No demands regarding any aid to Israel have been made. Israel will receive every dollar,” Hammond told the Free Beacon. “The conversations are figments of somebody’s imagination. The fiction was never considered and phone calls were never made. Israel will receive every dollar Congress has appropriated.”

An NSC spokesman also declined to comment on the matter, telling the Free Beacon, “We are not going to comment on internal United States government discussions.”

Update 4:31 p.m.: This post has been updated with further information and reporting.