What factors triggered mass emigration of Moroccan Jews?

Group of Zionist activists, Tetouan, 1921.
 Seated: Rabbi Judah Leon Halfon, founder of Shivat Zion society. Standing: L to R: Dr. Ariel Benzion, Jewish National Fund; Mr. Abraham Benwualid; Mr. Kansino, Manchester. 
From Beth Hatfutsot Photo Archive. Courtesy of Israel Salomon, Tel Aviv.

Factors that triggered the massive emigration of Moroccan Jews include:

  • Symbiotic but occasionally tense relationships with Muslim Arab and Amazigh peoples were destabilized by colonial powers beginning in the mid-19th century. Increasing control by colonial powers and popular resistance to colonization prevented Moroccan Sultans from protecting Jewish communities.
  • In forcing Morocco to become a protectorate in 1912, France justified its intervention partially on claims by non-Moroccan Jewish organizations that Moroccan Jews were being mistreated.
  • France encouraged the secularization of Moroccan Jews and their identification with the colonial powers. To strengthen French control over the country, French administrators purposefully created divisions between Jews and Muslims.
  • The repressive atmosphere experienced by Moroccan Jews under Vichy France from 1940-1942 convinced them that the Sultan could not protect them, even if he wanted to.
  • By the end of World War II, a large percentage of Jews were living in poverty, leading many to migrate to overcrowded urban mellahs from rural towns.
  • Nationalist solidarity with Arabs resisting the establishment of Israel, and French incitement of anti-Semitism created antagonism between Jews and Muslims. Jews felt a sense of alienation when Nationalists discouraged them from joining the struggle for independence.
  • Zionist groups and the Israeli Mossad exacerbated feelings of insecurity among Moroccan Jews. They argued that life would be better for them in Israel. In addition, non-Israeli Jewish organizations facilitated emigration, both directly and indirectly.
  • Upon independence in 1956, under pressure from the World Jewish community, Morocco granted the Jews full citizenship, but prohibited them from communicating with Israelis or emigrating to Israel.
  • Israel’s Six-Day War in 1967 and Moroccan Muslim solidarity with Arabs panicked many Moroccan Jews. By this time, the remaining Jews in Morocco had adequate resources to emigrate to Canada, Europe, Latin America and the US. They emigrated despite their inability to take most of their savings and assets with them.