Moroccan Jews: Impact of the First Arab-Israeli War (1948-55)

Moroccan Jewish school
Figure 1.--Moroccan Jews attempted to reconstruct their lives after Vichy repression (1940-43). Here we see Morrocan Jews in a 1949 class portrait. We are not sure just what kind of school this was. Rising anti-Semitism after the First Arab-Israeli War (1948-49) caused many Moroccan Jews to rethink their fiture in Morocco,

Morocco had the largest Jewish community in North Africa, variously estimated at 0.25-.30 million. The situation for Jews who were still recovering from Vichy persecution worsened with the Israeli declaration of independence and Arab invasion (1948). Sultan Mohammed V declared his support for the Arab cause. The Arab cause provided Moroccan nationalists an issue that could unite Moroccans without immediately threatening the French Government and inviting reprisals. Their ultimate goal was of course independence. Some nationalists organized a boycott of Jewish merchants, based on the principle that all Jews secretly supported Zionism. This was the first indication to many Jews that their continued life in Morocco could not be revived as it was before the War. And many Jews began to wonder what life would be like wiythout the French in an independent Morocco. The nationalists made little effort to recruit Jews and most Jews showed little interest in joining the nationalists. The Jewish community having experienced Vichy repression began to become increasingly concerned and isolated. Sultan Mohammed V to his credit, response to growing anti-Jewish rhetoric. He warned Muslim Moroccans not to harm their Jewish neighbors. He pointed out that Jews in Morocco and had always showed their devotion to the monarchy. At the same time, he warned Moroccan Jews not to support thge Zionists. He maintained that Moroccan Jews were well-treated subjects with the obligation to support the Sultan. He also affirmed his support for other Arab leaders. The Sultan ordered the speech to be read in all mosques and synagogues. The Sultan was a rare exception to the way in which autocrartic Arab leaders seized upon the conlict to build a political fiolloweing. Even so, scattered incidents occurred. Arabs rioted in Oujda and Djerada, killing 44 Jews. Many more Jews were injured. This was the beginning of the Jewish emigration from Morocco. About 18,000 Jews emigrated, most but not all to Israel (1948-49). After the British departed and Israel established there were no longer any limits on entry. Jewish emigration slowed down after 1949, but continued at a few thousand annually during the 1950s. Zionist organizations promoted further emigration, seeking to expand Isrrael's small population. They focused on the relatively poor and conservative south where many Jews were involved with agriculture and not as secularly oriented as in the coastal cities. Israel in the early years was especially interested in finding people with agricultural skills. As a result, gradually reducing the Moroccan Jewish community to a few thousand people. Several factors explain the exit of Moroccan Jews. It is probably true that Moroccans at ther time did not share the exterme anti-Semitism of many Europeans. It is not true, however, that there was no anti-Semitism in Morocco. The Vichy experience undoubtedly alerted many Moroccan Jews to their vulnerability. And the hostility and scattered violence after Israel declared independence was a further factor.


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Created: 3:22 AM 6/4/2011
Last updated: 3:22 AM 6/4/2011