Monday, November 17, 2008

How good for the Jews was Mohammed V?

How much of a friend to the Jews was the wartime king of Morocco, Mohammed V? Some go as far as to say he saved Jews from deportation by the Nazis; others that he simply did not have the authority.

Morocco was not under Nazi occupation, unlike Tunisia in 1942. The Vichy government imposed its own anti-Jewish regime in Morocco, the 'statut des juifs'. According to the historian Nathan Weinstock,the Moroccan king did not object to a single Vichy law, but placed his seal on each decree. He could have used his right of veto but chose not to. The rights of his Jewish subjects were just not worth a confrontation with Vichy.

Jews were thus banned from public office, quotas applied and they were forced back into the Mellahs. The king not only ratified (Weinstock,'Une si longue presence' p142) but EXTENDED a 1941 decree banning Jews from having Muslim maids.

The discriminatory Dhimma legislation was integrated into Moroccan law, and the king was complicit in this.

On the other hand, a 1941 telegram from the French foreign ministry, uncovered in the mid-1980s, discussed the worsening tensions between the French authorities and the king because of Mohammed V’s unwillingness to distinguish among his subjects."There are no Jews, only Moroccans," the king was reputed to have said. Some Moroccan Jews even claim that he asked the French authorities to bring him yellow stars for his family to wear; others say the story is apocryphal.

Michel Abitbol, the eminent historian and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has a different take. He makes a distinction between Mohammed V, the man, and the statesman.

"People forget that real power lay with the Resident-general of the French protectorate, he told Information juive (July/ Aug 2008 - Les juifs d'Afrique du Nord sous Vichy). The king kept the trappings of sovereignty, but had no way of opposing the French, unless he put his throne at risk, as he did in the early 1950s. In the 1940s, however, the king had no choice but to countersign French edicts, such as the notorious 1930 Berber Dahir, a real blow against Islam, and the anti-Jewish Vichy laws. On the personal level, however, he was sympathetic to the many Jews in his entourage. But as the 'statesman', he was forced to sign. "

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