Factor 8: Prohibitions on communications and emigration to Israel

Moroccan Jews at the Transit Camp “David” near Marseilles, France, from where they proceeded to Israel, 1949.
ANU Museum of the Jewish People Photo Archive, Tel Aviv, Courtesy of Shifra Dahan, Israel

The eighth factor causing Jews to leave Morocco in great numbers was prohibitions on communications with Israelis and emigration to Israel.

Mohammed V declared Moroccan independence in November 1955. When the Treaty of Fez was abolished in March 1956, he became King Mohammed V. While Jews played a marginal role in the nationalist struggle, the new Government’s constitution assured equality between Jews and Muslims.

Jews began to take the place of the French in the Administration. Three Jews were eventually elected to Parliament, including a rabbi. Jews were found in high posts in the Government and industry. The appointment of a Jewish Minister of Posts and Telegraphs was a symbol of the Jewish community’s importance. He remained in place until 1959, when a left-wing Government was elected and all mail and phone communications with Israel were cut.

In Feb 1956, Al Wifaq, a Jewish nationalist organization promoting Moroccan Jewish-Muslim coexistence, was founded. At that time, there was a great deal of discussion within the Jewish community on the degree to which it should integrate into Moroccan society. There also was debate on whether to play down differences between the Jewish community and the new Government. The Muslim elite was indifferent to Al Wifaq, however.

The bulk of Jewish population was hesitant and viewed the organization with apprehension. Many Jews viewed Al Wifaq members as elitists. Following the removal of the Jewish minister and the cutting of communications with Israel, Al Wifaq withered away. The Jewish community as a whole was not willing to trust the efforts of the Moroccan authorities to provide security and integrate Jews into the political process.

Such lack of trust was also understandable given the sudden prohibition on Jewish emigration in 1956. Fears of increased obstacles to emigration were shown to be well-founded. Istiqlal, the party that took power after independence, opposed any Jewish emigration that would strengthen Israel and weaken Arabs in Palestine. It demanded, and the Government agreed to ban Zionist organizations and to close the transit camp south of Casablanca.

In response, the Zionist organizations went underground, coordinating with the Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad. Representatives of Jewish organizations did not have their visas renewed.

From May to June, the transit camp was closed and transit offices were closed in major cities. Between 6,300 and 9,000 persons were trapped in the camp. French President Pierre Mendes France and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower addressed a letter of protest to the King. Government officials agreed to postpone closing the camp for three months, but ordered those Jews already in the camp to leave at night. This agreement was approved by the council of ministers, allowing 12,600 Jews to leave. In September 1956, the King signed a decree forbidding Moroccan Jews from going to Israel or returning to Morocco. Jews were no longer receiving passports.

The prohibition on emigration created panic within the Jewish community. The Mossad organized a secret emigration network, complete with self-defense teams, false passports, bribes to corrupt officials and the participation of Spanish authorities. Hundreds of Jews were arrested. In 1957, King Mohammed V was heavily lobbied by President Eisenhower and Jewish organizations when he gave an address to the UN. Until the King’s death in February 1961, the ban on emigration remained in place. Nevertheless, when Mohammed V died, Jews joined Muslims in a national day of mourning.

Israeli Monument to the Moroccan Jewish victims of the Capsized Boat, Egoz, which was Ferrying Jews from Morocco to Israel. From צילום:ד”ר אבישי טייכר

In January 1961, the Egoz, an overloaded boat carrying 42 Jews from the Moroccan Mediterranean port of Al Hoceima, capsized, drowning all aboard. Jewish organizations blamed the Moroccan Government, in efforts to create an international crisis and promote the legal mass emigration of Moroccan Jews.

The Mossad published 10,000 copies of a pamphlet declaring that no Jew and no Zionist who wanted to leave Morocco for Israel should be kept against his will in the Kingdom. It said “Any certainty of finding a place in an independent Morocco has disappeared.” Some youth were caught distributing the fliers, and many arrests were made. There is evidence that those arrested were tortured or died in detention.

The resultant negative publicity forced the new King, Hassan II, to consider reopening the emigration channels. The Mossad  and American Jewish organizations negotiated with him for the emigration of additional Jews. According to some sources, Israel paid $50 – $250 per immigrant for over 100,000 emigrants between 1961-64. The funds were placed in a Swiss bank account.

Collective passports were issued, with the fiction that Israel was not the real destination. Over 100,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated over the next four years. Between 1948 and 1967, 237,813 Jews migrated to Israel. (See Agnes Bensimon, Hassan II et Les Juifs: Histoire d’une emigration secrete, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1991 and Michael M. Laskier, North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century: The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, New York, New York University Press, 1994, pp. 204-205)