Thursday, January 11, 2007

How the Jews of Morocco went into exile

Serge Berdugo (article below) is right. Yes, Morocco welcomed the Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Yes, Jews and Muslims coexisted and still do. Yes, the king of Morocco is a unifying figure. King Mohammed V tried to protect the country's Jews and some even claim that during the war years stepped in to prevent their deportation.

But Berdugo - understandably - omits to mention the rather vital fact that Jews and Muslims coexisted within the constraints of dhimmitude -that is to say, on unequal terms. Until Morocco became a French protectorate in 1912, the Jews had limited legal rights. They were confined to the mellah; they could not own property. They were periodically massacred (According to Wikipedia, 400 were killed in Tetuan in 1859)and subject to forced conversion.

In his book Histoire des juifs d'Afrique du Nord, Andre Chouraqui (pps 170 - 172) gives a convincing explanation for their exodus. When the French finally departed, granting Morocco independence in 1956, the Jews, no longer shielded by the French colonial class, were exposed as Le petit blanc (the Little White Man). Only the rich and the 'technicians' could survive. The mass of poor Jews were resented by the great mass of even poorer Arabs who subsisted on a yearly income of less than $50. The Jews understood that they would be crushed under this irresistible social pressure and fall to the bottom of the pyramid.

Bu the proximate cause of their departure was a hardening of attitudes towards the Jews. Almost as soon as Morocco became independent Mohammed V played off political parties against each other and kow-towed to the Arab League. When the leftwing of the Istiqlal party rose to power the Jews were thrown into a panic. The Jews became the scapegoats of choice. Adopting anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist measures to please the Arab league, postal links between Morocco and Israel were cut. The ephemeral Jewish postal minister ceased to exist. Certain senior Jewish civil servants found themselves in disgrace and a numerus clausus (quota) was introduced for Jews in public service. Jews were refused passports, forcing them to emigrate illegally.

Things got worse after the Arab League meeting in Casablanca in 1959. The police set out in hot pursuit of those Jews who wished to leave Morocco. All escape routes were blocked. Those Jews who were caught trying to escape were thrown into jail and tried for 'jeopardising state security'. And so Zionism became a crime. A Jewish notable in Meknes was brought to court for owning a Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) calendar. Another was arrested and beaten for wearing a blue and white kippa while praying in synagogue. All charitable and social institutions were suspected of Zionism.

The director-general of ORT - Maroc (an organisation for vocational training) was arrested by the police, put on a plane and expelled. A newspaper published an article about the 'Zionist hydra' while Nasser was welcomed in triumph in Casablanca.

The Pisces episode was the saddest and most dramatic in this unequal fight between the Moroccan administration and the Jews: 40 clandestine Jewish emigrants were drowned when their ship sank in a storm between Tangiers and Gibraltar. The King had allowed this absurd policy, which flew in the face of Moroccan honour and tradition, to continue. He died on 26 February 1961.

His successor Hassan II, more western in outlook and less political, allowed the Jews to leave.

The exodus of Moroccan and Tunisian Jews extended over a long period, beginning in 1947 -8 following the creation of Israel, dipping in 1953 when Israel was in the grip of a serious economic crisis, peaking in 1956 - 7 when Tunisia and Morocco became independent. Emigration was officially banned between 1958 and 1960 but took place illegally and at great risk. In 1961 and 1962, 70 percent of Jews left when the ban was lifted. The remaining Jews left after the Six Day War. Only some 3,000 remain.


Anonymous said...

You quote from a site that claims:

"her latest book, EURABIA: The Euro-Arab Axis (31 January 2005), describes the gradual transformation of Europe into "Eurabia," a cultural and political appendage of the Arab/Muslim world."

That sounds like of those conspiracy theories leveled at Jews...that they want to control the world.

One couldn't possibly take seriously all the links you posted.

You also referred to an attack that left over 400 Jews dead but such crimes do not necessary prove the conspiracy theories that you are trying to put forward.

Israel is guilty of similar crimes against its own minority (Arabs):

The Kfar Qassim massacre of 1956 in which the Israeli border police killed 49 Arabs including 6 women and 23 children:

Not to mention the massacre of Deir Yassin in which over 100 villagers were gunned down.

Whatever you describe occurred everywhere (against all kind of minorities not only against Jews) including in America (which at the time didn't even grant blacks equal rights) which is the strongest ally of Israel today.

Zionism itself was and still racist (Labor Zionism excluded labor and land from non-Jews) despite the fact that it claimed it was trying to fight discrimination (by enforcing discrimination against others).

Anonymous said...

One more thing that readers need to be aware of is that often pro-Zionists try to confuse anti-Zionist feelings with anti-Jewish feelings.

Morocco made it clear that it makes a clear distinction between Zionism and Judaism.

Criminalizing Zionism should not be regarded as discrimination no more than criminalizing Al-qaeda ideology in most countries today.

Zionism was considered a threat to national security and therefore anyone caught involved in it was prosecuted.

Israel was also considered the official enemy of the state and therefore any involvement with it was considered a crime.

I am sure there has been abuses of such policies but over all I think people left because of many factors including religious indoctrination (Moroccans are known to be more conservative).

You can't call someone a refugee when they celebrated the day they arrive to their "refuge" (that is Israel).

Israel was considered their True homeland and many people believe it was.

Palestinian refugees that Israel still prosecute today never held such beliefs. They still want to go back to their homes, and they must be granted that right despite Israel's blatant refusal.

bataween said...

So Maghrebi, answer me this:
when a Jew prays 'next year in Jerusalem' at the festival of Passover, is it then legitimate for him to be arrested and thrown into jail for being a Zionist?

Jillian said...

Thanks for a good article. Despite the fairly good relations between Morocco and Israel now (mainly because of the money the Israelis of Moroccan ancestry bring back to the country), it's obvious looking at a city like Meknes that the lives of Jews here were not so easy (although as you said, prior to the rise of Istiqlal, relations were not so bad).

That said, your statistic of how many Jews remain in Morocco seems a little off to me. In Casablanca alone (the economic capital), there are said to be about 5,000 Jews, most of whom migrated from other cities. The community there is pretty close-knit and I would imagine their count is accurate. Outside of the big city, there are still Jews in Meknes (fewer than 50, from what I understand), Fez (a few hundred), Essaouira (a few hundred) and perhaps 2,000 more scattered amongst smaller cities and villages. The number is closer to 8,000 than 3,000.

bataween said...

Thanks TaamarbuutA
The statistics do seem to vary. Yhe Moroccan Jewish website puts the figure of Jews at 3,000. The numbers probably go up in summer when
there are more visitors.