Spanish Intervention of 1860
In February 1860, Spain prepared to invade the northern city of Tetouan, in efforts to extend its political influence. Tribes and unruly soldiers attacked the mellah, to protest the impotence of the Sultan against the Spanish. The entire city was pillaged the following day to prevent the Spanish from benefiting from Jewish wealth. After Tetouan was returned to Moroccan control in 1862, the Jewish population feared it would be attacked, given the close business relationships between some Jews and the Spanish. Taking advantage of this sentiment, European consulates encouraged the Sultan to protect Jews in Tetouan and throughout the country, because they saw the Jews as potential allies in increasing European financial, commercial and political control over Morocco.
Decree of Sultan Sidi Mohammed IV
In 1864, in response to Jewish complaints of ill treatment, Sir Moses Montefiore, leader of the British Jewish community, met with Sultan Sidi Mohammed IV to assure increased protection of the Jewish population. The Sultan signed the following decree:
“We require of all our servants, governors, caids, and all who hold office that the greatest kindness and good will be extended to all Jews living within our Empire. God has moved us to act thus.
We desire that justice and impartiality be shown these our subjects and that they be considered as equals before the Law. Not one of them is to be the object of any wrongful action whatsoever, nor must any Jew be subjected to injury or harm of any sort, nor any assault be made on his goods or possessions. The official services which may be required of them in the name of the State shall not be exacted with violence and in all cases, shall be honorably remunerated since, at the end of our lives here on Earth, we shall all be answerable to the Almighty for any injustice committed.
We shall never consent to any wickedness being practiced either to Jews or to anyone whosoever he be. We hold all our subjects in the same respect and, should an act of iniquity be perpetrated against even one of them, We shall, with the help of the Almighty, meet out fitting punishment to the author of any such act.
This command and all the behest therein are acknowledged by us with all due stringency and resolution of purpose and should constitute for our Jewish subjects a guarantee against any injustice of which they might be the object on the part of those whose intent is to maltreat them.” (quoted in Nina Banon, Morocco: A Guide and History, Casablanca, 1982.)
European consuls, who were restricted by the Sultan to the northwestern city of Tangier, monitored the implementation of this decree, as a means of putting pressure on the Sultan to liberalize trade.
Jewish Protégés of Foreign Powers
The more elite Moroccan Jews served foreign powers and consulates. They were considered by European powers and merchants as vital intermediaries in the conduct of commerce in the country, especially since foreign merchants were largely restricted to coastal cities far from the towns and markets for which most of the their goods were destined. Tangier embassies used Jewish merchants as consular representatives in port cities, guaranteeing them extraterritorial rights. These protégés did not pay taxes and were immune from prosecution. There might have been 6,000 protégés in all of Morocco in 1890, most of whom were Jews. The population resented these Jews, a small minority of the Jewish population, for opposing the Sultan and supporting the Europeans. The protégés were accused of using their special status to exploit those who borrowed money from them. The Sultan was required to reimburse the debts owed to these protégés. This contributed to the bankruptcy of the Monarchy.
Foreign Jewish organizations, supported by European powers, fought the efforts of the Sultan to exercise authority over the protégés. The efforts of European powers to push the Sultan’s government into bankruptcy coincided with criticisms by non-Moroccan Jewish organizations of the treatment of Moroccan Jews. While focusing particularly on the protégés, they also decried the maltreatment of the large majority of Jewish subjects of the Sultan. European powers used such criticism to defame the Sultan and build the case for colonial control, but the U.S., eager to demonstrate its “humanitarian principles” in countering European colonialism, found the situation of Jews had improved significantly in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1905, a U.S. Government assessment team found little validity to the claims by American Jewish organizations that Moroccan Jews were being oppressed.