Despite Morocco's long symbiosis with the Jews, the average Moroccan identifies more closely with an Afghan Muslim than a Moroccan Jew. This is one of the findings in Paul Vermeren's new book, Le Maroc de Mohammed Vl: La transition inachevee (Editions la Decouverte) summarised in Information Juive (July/August 2009). Here is a potted translation:
Morocco is something of an exception in the Arab world. It's got the largest Jewish community - 2,500 ( which is not saying much when you consider it once had 260,000 - ed). It attracts 5,000 Israeli-Moroccan visitors every year. The Moroccans are the second biggest community in Israel - after the Russians. In spite of Morocco's passionate support for the Palestinian cause, Morocco has always kept channels open to Israel. The liaison office was closed in 2000 due to the intifada, but in 2003, Mohammed Vl received the Israeli foreign minister.
Morocco knows that it suffered a tremendous loss with the rapid exodus of this hardworking but mostly very poor population. Seventy percent went to Israel, with the remainder moving to France, Canada and the US. The country is proud of its Jewish sons 'done good' abroad, be it an Israeli minister or an artist like the stand-up comic Gad Elmaleh.
The problem for Morocco's Jews has been the constant conflation in Muslim minds of 'Jew' with 'Zionist' and 'Israeli'. This confusion caused a profound unease, and hastened the departure of young Jews. They were off as soon as they had their school-leaving certificate in their pockets. Much blame lies with antisemitic textbooks, but no-one dares turn the clock back.
Several groups have tried to reverse this state of affairs - a handful of Jewish anti-Zionist and Marxist intellectuals (A. Serfaty, E Amrane El Maleh, Sion Assidon, Simon Levy) stayed on in Morocco and have been especially active. Another group of Moroccan-born French interface between the palace, business interests abroad and western allies like France,the US and Israel.
Moroccan intellectuals such as Mohammed Kenbib, Mohammed Hatmi and Jamaa Baida, together with Hebrew language specialists in Arabic studies departments and journalists, try to keep the memory of a shared past alive. Tel Quel (November 2008) published a supplement called 'The Jew within us: at the heart of Moroccan identity'.
But a survey on religious attitudes in 2007 showed the limitations of such an approach: 63 percent of all Moroccans questioned felt closer to a Muslim Afghan than to a Moroccan Jew (12 percent). The exodus of the Jews from towns and villages has given way to an antisemitism largely fed by anti-Israeli feeling. If the younger generation only rediscovered the forgotten Jewish element of their national identity might the dam be shored up - assuming that the state is willing to incorporate it in its school textbooks and syllabi.
Point of No Return received this moving comment from Mohammed:
'I hate hatred so much'
"Even though I was only 8 years old in 1962, I was absolutely horrified and shocked when my Moroccan mate Jabran's mum told me and her son that she wished that we both grew up to become soldiers and kill 10 Jews each.
"I lived in Fes (Morocco) for 7 years since 1957. My parents were Iraqi University lecturers training new teachers for the newly independent Morocco.
"I was shocked by the hate that Jabran's mum had for people just because they had the "wrong" religion.
"What surprised me more was the acceptance and approval expressed by Jabran to his mum's opinion which became clear to me when I questioned him later to see if he agreed with what she had to say. He said "off course he would!" and "what a silly question?".
"I initially felt a bit guilty as I did not conform and perhaps I should have also approved. But I just couldn't.
"I knew at the time a couple of Moroccan Jewish children and they were quite decent and normal and did not seem to me that they deserved to be killed at all.
"My mother’s obstetrician was Jewish (Dr Migwar) and my father said at the time that he would not trust anyone else to circumcise my newly born brother.
"I am glad that I grew up to find that my disapproval with Jabran's mum was right.
"I can envisage that there may also be some Western or Israeli people who similarly feel that "nuking the bloody Arabs or Moslems" was a wonderful idea.
"I'm afraid some of those misinformed and brainwashed people from both sides may end up carrying arms and would not feel guilty to kill innocent people on the other side.
"How many lives and livelihoods have been destroyed in the name of religion over the millennia? John Lennon was spot on when imagining peaceful world without religion.
"I just hate hatred so much.
"Peace be upon everyone."