Factor 6: Israel and the Moroccan independence movement

Jacob Cerfaty, Chairman of the Tetouan Jewish Community Council, next to a picture of King Mohammed V, addressing a meeting of the Itiqlal Party, which fought for Morocco’s independence. The meeting was held at the Jewish Club, Tetouan, 1956.  
From ANU Museum of the Jewish People Photo Archives, Courtesy of Avraham Zerfaty, Netania  

The sixth factor leading to the Jewish exodus was tensions associated with the establishment of Israel and the movement to oust the French from Morocco. Nationalist solidarity with Arabs resisting the establishment of Israel and French incitement of anti-Semitism created antagonism between Jews and Muslims. Many Jews felt a sense of alienation when Nationalists discouraged them from joining the struggle for independence.

In May 1948, Arab armies launched a war against the new State of Israel. Sultan Mohammed V declared his support for the Arabs. With the war, Moroccan nationalists found a cause that could unite Moroccans without giving the appearance that the real enemy was the French Government, and the ultimate goal Moroccan independence. In response to anti-Jewish rhetoric, the Sultan warned Muslims not to hurt Moroccan Jews, reminding them that Jews had always been protected in Morocco and had always shown their devotion to the Throne. He also warned Moroccan Jews not to support Zionists.

Tensions associated with the Israeli-Arab War and illegal Moroccan Jewish emigration to Israel contributed to two pogroms in the eastern towns of Oujda and Jerrada in June 1948. The pogroms, which were not well controlled and perhaps instigated by the French authorities, resulted in 8 deaths, 600 wounded, and 900 homeless in Oujda. In Jerrada, south of Oujda, there were 39 dead and 44 wounded. When the Pacha (Mayor) of Oujda expressed his regrets about these incidents and met with each victim’s family, he was attacked violently in Oujda’s Grand Mosque.  Some analysts suggest that the Israeli Haganah (main paramilitary organization) and Zionist groups may have had a role in provoking the pogroms (Mohammed Kenbib, Juifs et Musulmans au Maroc, 1859-1948, Rabat, Universite Mohammed V Faculte des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines, 1994, p. 683)

Istiqlal, the most important independence party, did not do enough to encourage Jews to join the independence movement, although it tried to separate Middle East issues from those of Morocco. A bomb exploded in a Fez café on Yom Kippur eve, because the nationalists knew that it was the only time when there would be no Jews in the café. In 1944, Istiqlal asked Leon Benzaquen, a famous Jewish doctor who would later become the first Jewish Minister, to sign the first Independence Manifesto, but he refused. He is believed to have stayed neutral on the nationalist struggle, because of conflicts in the Jewish community among modernists, graduates of AIU, Zionists, and traditionalists. A small minority of Jews actively supported the nationalists. The Moroccan Communist Party, which supported the independence struggle, had a large percentage of Jews. Also, a few Jews in Fez published a proclamation opposing efforts by French to poison Muslim-Jewish relations. (Abraham Serfaty and Mikhael Elbaz, L’Insoumis: Juifs, Marocains et rebelles, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 2001, p. 87.)

Even though the nationalists supported the Palestinian struggle and opposed Moroccan Jewish support for Israel, they nevertheless sought foreign Jewish support for Moroccan independence. In 1955, nationalist leaders from the Istiqlal  Party met with World Jewish Congress representatives in efforts to seek American support for Moroccan independence. At the meeting and in public interviews, they stated their intention to guarantee the liberty of Moroccan Jews and their equality with other citizens as well as the participation of Jews in representative organizations and in the Government. Such sentiments appeared to be more for foreign consumption than an expression of clear intent, however. In fact, Istiqlal intended to drive a wedge between the Moroccan Jewish community and Israel, which would have a major impact on the role of Jews in independent Morocco.