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TSUR Yaron A Torn Community The Jews of Morocco and Nationalism
Yaron Tsur, 2001, A Torn Community : The Jews of Morocco and Nationalism, 1943-1954,
The Hebrew title: קהילה קרועה Am Oved, Tel Aviv

Review by Marc Eliany
Moroccan Jewry was exposed to French rule (about 1912) and French education (about 1880) and began developing affinities to France and European culture. At the same time, Moroccan Jews had long standing neighbourly relations with Moroccans, who expected loyalty and support to the Moroccan national struggle for independence. However, as Moroccan Jews became aware of the rise of Zionism and as Israel`s war of independence brought about victory and the establishment of the state of Israel, they tended to opt for departing Morocco and settling in Israel.
Moroccan elites made attempts to integrate Moroccan Jews in the Moroccan national movement, recalling a long neighbourly tradition. But Moroccans elites also associated themselves with Pan Arabism and the Palestinian cause. Thus, calls to integrate Jews in Moroccan national causes had to compete with the attraction of Zionism and Israel. The association of Moroccans elites with Pan Arabism and the Palestinian cause, as well as, threats and pogroms (Oujda and Jerada) led Moroccan Jew to opt for immigration to Israel and to a lesser extent to France, among other countries.
Immigration and absorption difficulties in Israel raised doubts in the hearts of the Moroccan Jewish leadership, who explored alternative options to immigration to Israel in building a future in independent Morocco. But Moroccan Nationalists did not open the door wide enough for the integration of Jews in the national movement. In any case, Jewish population at large remained attached to the Zionist dream, even when Westernized leaders considered other options.
The French administration valued North African Jewry for its potential contribution to Morocco and France. In fact, French authorities financed most of the AIU network of schools in Morocco (p.149). The economic condition of Moroccan Jewry improved between 1949 and 1953 (p. 149, 156-157) and some Jews considered staying in Morocco as an option.
French Protectorate sources suspected that Jewish organizations such as Joint, ORT and AIU intended to prepare Moroccan Jewry (intellectual, professional and health wise) for immigration to Israel, rather than for settling in Morocco or serving French interests and estimated that only unqualified Jews would remain in Morocco (p.117-118). But international considerations were at play and France allowed discreet immigration to Israel, to serve Western interests, i.e., that North African Jewry immigration would mitigate East European Socialist tendencies in Israel.
It appears that elements in the French Administration did not always understand AIU intentions. AIU aimed to modernize Moroccan Jewry and tie it to France not only through acculturation but also legally, like in Tunisia. AIU leadership aimed to shelter Jews from abuse by granting them France`s legal status. However, as Moroccan Jewry did not have equal access to French education, AIU sought also equal status for those who would remain under Moroccan rule. Thus, exposure to French culture became a mean of differentiation within Moroccan Jewry and one of its key faults.
After WWII, American Jewry influence increased and `discovered` Moroccan Jewry. The World Jewish Congress gained influence in Morocco, at times competing with the established AIU leadership. AIU provided education services, while American organizations provided economic, housing and health services, adding strength to AIU activities. Although AIU as well as American organizations aimed to improve living conditions of Jews in general and not for `nationalistic` reasons, their activities lent support to Israel and Zionists interests.
Once Israel dealt with the absorption of Holocaust survivors, efforts were directed to Moroccan Jewry. Rene Cassin (AIU), Nahum Goldman (WJC) and Ben Gurion held private meetings to coordinate their activities relating to Moroccan Jewry. Most Israeli parties sent representatives to Morocco to attract immigrants. Most acted openly, to the dismay French authorities, who called for discreet action, not to alienate Moroccan Nationalists. Israel determined the pace of immigration (p.145). When Israeli authorities opted for selective or slow pace immigration from Morocco, AIU and American Jewish organizations reverted to benevolent assistance, to improve living conditions of Jews in general and not for `nationalistic` reasons. In spite of the fact that Israel determined the pace of immigration, Israeli representatives, mostly leftists, criticized Moroccan Jewish leaders for not encouraging immigration to Israel, allegedly to serve personal interests rather than Zionist national interests (p.146). Moroccan Jewish leaders acted like AIU and American Jewish organizations. They aimed to improve the general living conditions of the Jewish population, to provide it with better opportunities, whether in Morocco, France or Israel.
[The absorption of Moroccan Jewish immigrants in Israel was rough. Israeli authorities did not value them as highly as did the French. Israel had limited resources to absorb them adequately. It imposed selection criteria and expected immigrants to fit into a mold (lower status jobs and settling the outskirts). Moroccan immigrants protested, thus gaining a reputation for being too aggressive (Morocco sakin).]
Foreign Jewry intervention had a positive impact on Moroccan Jews from a cultural point of view but less so on their political status in Moslem Morocco (p.167). As French influence in Morocco subsided, so did the scope of Foreign Jewish influence, leaving room for Zionism and neo-particularism to take hold in Jewish Morocco (1954). French influence and modernization were truncated, reaching the younger generation but not the older one. With the closing of the French option, Moroccan Jews turned to Zionism and Israel (p.170).
The Jewish Community and nationalism
Over 90 percent of Moroccan Jews lived in urban areas, i.e., Casablanca and Marakesh, among other cities. Less than 10 percent lived in remote villages. French penetration and modernization led to economic changes and new opportunities in urban areas. People from rural areas migrated to cities seeking to benefit from the new opportunities. Jewish migrants differed somewhat. Some Jewish tradesmen were displaced by Moslem neighbours, who took over traditional Jewish trades such as jewellery, bringing about the need for migration. This process coincided somewhat with Jewish exposure to French education as well as the increasing probability to fulfill the dream of redemption in the newly established State of Israel (p.171-178).
Foreign observers divide the Jewish population in Casablanca to subgroups:
‘European Jews’ i.e., Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans of Spanish background, and a few Europeans holding a European citizenship and who were somewhat privileged from and economic and educational point of view;
‘Westernized Jews’ i.e., Moroccan Jews who gained French education and held middle class occupations or higher; included here are unaffiliated educated Jews who did not identify with the French or Zionism and displayed independent secular or Communist tendencies.
‘Local inhabitants’ and ‘migrants:’ i.e., the masses of the less fortunate, who struggles to make a living in urban centers. Observers tend to focus on this group and describe its impoverished conditions. But in reality, this group was heterogeneous and consisted in the most part of working people in a variety of trades, commerce and employment. Children attended traditional Jewish studies in a variety of forms, as well as modern orthodox education in `Otsar Hatorah` schools, as well as, AIU and Non-Jewish schools, alongside traditional apprenticeship programs.
[Note: The writer of this review lived in Casablanca between 1955 and 1961. He knew all parts of Casablanca well. He cannot confirm the description of poverty and lack of cleanliness as described by the cited observers. Jews lived in crowded quarters and may have lived in modesty but health and socio-economic conditions were not so poor as to result in widespread diseases, starvation and criminality. Exaggerated discussions of poverty may have been biased to enlist support for Zionism, among other assistance programs.]
Before WWII, Moroccan Jewry aimed for gaining a legal French status for Westernized Jews while advancing equality under Moslem rule, for those who did not acquire French education and had to live in Morocco after independence. After WWII, the colonial hold of France on Morocco weakened. Identification with France remained but it became obvious that Jews were to live in Morocco without French protection. Consequently, leaders sought to better the legal status of Jews in Morocco, if they were to live under Moslem rule, while strengthening ties with Zionism and Israel. The change reflects pragmatism, detached of ideological affinities. (p.186-198). Thus, when Israeli representative came to Morocco to prepare Jews for immigration, Moroccan Jewry had already an underlying structure to facilitate it (p.198). Before the arrival of Israelis to Morocco, Moroccan Zionists acted as a group, without political affiliation. Israeli activists introduced political divisions, i.e., Dror, Mizrahi etc… (p.200). To conclude, with the decline of French colonialism and the rise of Moslem Moroccan Nationalism, Moroccan sought comfort in Zionism and Israel as an expression of their new Jewish Nationalism (p.200-201).
Although AIU remained dominant in term of its influence on Moroccan Jewry, its role eroded with the decline of French authority in Morocco, leaving more room for the American Joint and Zionists to exert influence. The Joint supported institutions outside of the AIU influence, i.e., Otsar Hatorah and Habad, which provided religious and Hebrew education, strengthening, thereby, elements with affinities to Zionism and Israel (p.205-209). Interestingly, Israeli representatives considered religious education as `anti Zionist` and urged the Jewish Agency to increase its involvement in education to strengthen the pro Zionist stream (p.209-213). The Jewish Agency enlisted children and youth to get secular education at Aliyat Hanoar institutions in Israel, raising some concern from both secular and religious Moroccan Jewish elites (p.213-216). In spite of their concern, Moroccan Jewish elites valued ties with Israel but to a lesser extent with Zionism (p.216-217). French education and Jewish education provided Moroccan Jews with alternatives to Moroccan nationalism, i.e., identification with Israel or France, which held a promise of redemption, more so than Moslem Morocco (p. 218-223). And yet, some Jews did value the Moroccan nationalist movement, since the latter stressed `longstanding` positive relations between Jews and Moslems in Morocco. Consequently, some Jews did consider living in independent Morocco on an egalitarian basis (i.e., similar to European countries) (p.224-227). Jewish members of the communist party in Morocco were among those who supported the Moroccan nationalist movement and considered living in independent Morocco on an egalitarian basis (p.227-229). The mass of Moroccan Jews tended to perceive the Moroccan king as their protector but preferred French control to Moslem control, in light of abuses as dhima and in spite of decent neighbourly relations (p.229-236).
The relations between Israel and the Moroccan Jewry
The Zionist movement did not know much about Moroccan Jewry but started showing interest in it with the participation of representatives in congresses and became more interested in it after WWII, subsequent to the destruction of European Jewry and the need for alternative population sources to strengthen Israel as a nation from a demographic point of view. Moroccan Jews were always present in Palestine and took part of the immigration movement in the 19th century but their weight in it dwindled when France took Morocco under its wings (p.237-238).
The Zionist movement, led by Ben Gurion, estimated the Jewish population in the Moslem World to be around 855,000. Ben Gurion held a stereotypical view of Jews from Moslem countries, i.e., as people who despise work and are submissive to Moslem authority. But he believed all should immigrate to Israel and take part in settling it. He believed that investment in the education of Jews from Moslem countries would bring desirable results (p. 239-241). The first Zionists sent to North Africa were surprised to find an existing Zionist organization and tried to enlist to the Labour movement side rather than let it strengthen the religious and revisionist opposition. Zionists representatives appreciated the existing leadership and the youth but continued to hold a negative view of the masses (p. 241-244).
About 1200 North African Jews joined the illegal immigration movement to Israel in 1947 (Yehuda halevi, Shivat Zion, Haportsim boats). Most were arrested by the British and were sent to Cyprus. This encounter of North African Jews with Zionists and European Jews pointed out key issues Moroccan Jewry was to face in Israel, i.e., improvisation and lack of responsible organization of immigration, which turned out to be a difficult experience even to motivated immigrants, corruption due to appropriation of funds by immigration representatives, lack of affiliation with Labour parties or affiliation with religious or revisionists, implied lack of adequate representation and neglect of immigrants needs, if not discrimination and finally, a socio-cultural gap between immigrants from Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Westernized Moroccan immigrants pointed out the necessity to enlist immigrants of higher socio-economic background to prepare the immigration of lower status groups, but their voices were not listened to (p.244-252).
When the news of an independent Israel reached Morocco, Moroccan Jews were ready to make their redemption dream come true. Some left remote villages to go to Israel in any way they could. But, Israel, France and Moslem Morocco were not about to let them go. Constraints and pogroms combined to make them realize that immigration will have to be discreet and controlled. But most hurtful was the realization that immigrants were subject to selection by Israeli authorities, a measure that led to high density in camps, extended length of stay, diseases, corruption, exploitation of the naiveté of people and neglect. Friedman, a key organizer of immigration said: `the problem is not North African or Sephardic. Nothing will stop these Jews from immigration. This is an Israeli problem. Will there be here one nation or various ethnic groups?’ (p.260).
An effort was made to establish a program, aiming to better prepare Jews to immigration to Israel by providing education and health services (p.263). But voices that negated Moroccan Jewry had already spread through all levels, from government officials through newspapers. The fear that the new immigrants would overtake European immigrants or support the revisionist opposition fuelled them (p.252-272). Competition between Israeli political parties, as well as, between the Mossad and Jewish local and foreign organizations over Moroccan immigrants led to loss of control over organized immigration, with tragic consequences: i.e., the negative image of the Moroccan immigrants, as well as, a community rift, distinguishing between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ elements within Moroccan Jewry. Such rift served Israeli Labour elites which feared loss of hegemony, especially after the election of opposition parties (Mizrahi, Herut and independents) to the leadership of Zionist organizations in Morocco (p.277-281).
Moroccan Jews felt discriminated against for the following reasons:
- Israeli Authorities took youth to Israel first;
- Youth were divided between political streams according to their proportional weight in Israel. Thus too many youth ended up in non-religious placements, in contradiction to promises made to parents;
- The process implied tearing apart families;
- Promises that families would follow were not fulfilled;
- Authorities demanded that families finance their own way to Israel and even when parties did provide funds as required, they were kept waiting in over-crowded transition camps, under-fed and exposed to diseases;
- Immigrants were subject to selection on the basis of strict health criteria;
- Israeli authorities, socialist and of European origin, in the most part, looked down upon Moroccan immigrants who tended to be religious or traditional, were perceived as lacking pioneering characteristics, although they were willing to do any work;
- Moroccan Jews, whether religious or westernized, were perceived as a threat to the hegemony of European Jews and were kept away from positions of power and were deprived of adequate resources (for immigration and else) (p.281-315).
Israeli leaders feared immigrants from Asia and Africa. They initially held high and unrealistic expectations for them, i.e., that the new immigrants would undertake pioneering duties, in settling remote areas and building new farming villages. But the masses of immigrants were too much for the nascent nation and the organization laid to absorb them was too chaotic. So much so that Israeli leaders transferred the blame for the chaos from themselves to the newly arrived, fearing that the new immigrants would overtake them. At this stage, Israeli leaders opted for forceful means to turn new immigrants into a productive force as well as to settle them in remote areas (p. 315-319). In addition to the disorganized and under financed process of immigration and competition between political parties on immigrants’ affiliation, they imposed immigration regulation, i.e., selecting young immigrants, planned to indoctrinate them in socialist settings, hoping it would maintain the socialist hegemony ((p. 319-323).
Israeli leaders held divergent views as to how Moroccan Jewish immigrants should be treated. Religious and liberal parties tended to allow family immigration with limited regulation while labour parties opted for immigrant selection on the basis of age and health. But in reality, selection was also based on `culture,` although not mentioned openly, due to the racial discrimination implications. Israeli leader vacillated between the two poles not only because of power struggle between competing political parties but also because of the economic implications of massive immigration, as well as, the necessity to populate Israel in light of the `Arab demographic threat.` It seems that the fear of the demographic threat and the need to settle the outskirts (a policy of population dispersion), led decision makers to change selection rules: i.e., rather than selecting individuals (youth), families with unproductive dependents were allowed to immigrate, if one or more productive members could provide for them (p.323-346).
New immigrants, Moroccans among others, established over 300 agricultural settlements and produced much produce (p.350), but it appears that they gained no credit or respect (Israeli leaders referred to them, using a derogatory as `human material`). However, as more Israelis went to Morocco to gain a firsthand impression, the opinion of Moroccan Jewry turned more positive (p.354: `this is the dearest tribe in the world` Isaac Raphael on Moroccan Jews). But this view was in all likelihood tinted by political interest, since Raphael assessed the potential support of a religious/traditional Moroccan Jewry for his party. Similarly, the perception of Moroccan Jewry remained negatively tinted in the eyes of representatives of Labour parties, because of the potential threat to their hegemony, in spite of positive firsthand impressions after visiting Morocco. Labour representatives expected Moroccan Jewry to fit into a national plan, i.e., settling the outskirts of Israel (dispersion of the population), as well as, turning instantly into labourers.
Jews in rural Morocco expressed a wish to immigrate to Israel without selection impositions. But the Israeli establishment took time to respond and when it responded it imposed conditions such as leaving behind the disabled as well as working as farmers in Israel. In the time Israelis took to respond, the local leadership and the young realized they may have better opportunities in urban Morocco, as even in underdeveloped villages, Jews have already experienced `westernization` and its opportunities under French rule and some did not appreciate Israel`s imposition that immigrants from rural morocco must work in agriculture. They also got negative news from immigrants who left for Israel ahead of them and realized that equality of opportunities would be curtailed by the Israeli administrative constraints and reneged on immigration to Israel, to the dismay and surprise of Israeli organizers (p.373-382).
Conclusion
Nationalism was hardly in the minds of Moroccan Jews before WWII. However, the exposure to French culture led ‘westernized’ Jews to identify themselves increasingly with France. After WWII, with the decline of French might, Moroccan Jews became exposed to Zionism as well as Moroccan nationalism. Westernised Jews continued to identify themselves with France but affinities with Zionism increased and only a small minority (leftists) developed an attachment to Moroccan nationalism. Beyond the westernized portion of the population, the masses tended to identify with Zionism, rather than Moroccan nationalism, because yearning for Zion and redemption were omnipresent in Jewish Morocco for centuries (p. 401-404). Zionism provided also a socio-economic solution to increasing economic stresses with the decline of French colonialism and the rise of Moroccan nationalism.
Moroccan Jewry opted for immigration to independent Israel instantly. But immigration to Israel did not go smoothly. Mass immigration of Moroccan Jews was perceived as a threat to the cultural and political hegemony of veteran immigrants of East European origin, therefore regulation of immigration was imposed (p. 405-6). Negative feedback from Moroccan Jewish immigrants cooled the desire for immigration to Israel among Jews remaining in Morocco to the dismay of Israeli leaders. Israeli leaders then visited Morocco and impressed by the potential of the Jewish community in general, decided to relax immigration regulation. In parallel, the decline of French colonialism, the rise of Moroccan nationalism, combined with economic considerations, led Moroccan Jews to opt for immigration to Israel. Zionism offered continuity between religiosity and national redemption in Israel, as well as, the promise of equality, economic prosperity and security. Moroccan nationalism did not manage to provide similar assurances, especially as ties to pan-Islamism strengthened among nationalists, in light of the Israeli-Arab conflict, as well as, attacks on Jews (i.e., Oujda, Jerada, Petit Jean) (p. 407-408).

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