Overview: The Uprooting

Sephardic Jewish emigrants from Morocco to Israel during their stop near the city of Marseilles in 1949. About 25,000 Moroccan Jews in 1948 were Sephardic.
From ANU Museum of the Jewish People Photo Archive, Shifra Dahan, Israel

I believe that the emigration of Moroccan Jews was an uprooting of an entire population. As a whole, Moroccan Jews lived well with Muslims and under the Sultan, who is now known as King. Groups from outside the country disturbed these relations, turning Jews against Muslims and vice versa. These outside groups included: European and American governments; European and American Jewish Zionist and non-Zionist groups; and the Israeli Government. These groups may have believed they were acting in the best interests of the Jews. I believe, however, that they were more interested in using the Jews to pursue their own parochial agendas. An ambiguous attitude of the Moroccan nationalists and political parties toward integrating Jews into the political life of Morocco also facilitated the uprooting of the Jews.

The result was the destruction of a unique culture that had evolved over 2,000 years and that was a model for Jewish-Muslim symbiosis. Most Moroccan Jews gave up this culture and way of life to live in Israel, where for many years they were treated as second-class citizens. Those Jews who moved to France, Canada and the US were more easily integrated into these countries, but still retain a strong sense of nostalgia for Morocco.

Many Israelis and Zionists say they rescued the Moroccan Jews. I contend that they uprooted them. Political Zionism was almost nonexistent in Morocco, although strong religious feelings encouraged a few hundred Jews to emigrate to Palestine prior to the 20th century. While it is impossible to know what Morocco would have been like if the Jews hadn’t emigrated, I believe that the Jews who moved abroad lost much of their rich culture and the opportunity to play an important role in the construction of independent Morocco. Life for the Jews who remained in Morocco has been far better than any of the recruiters from Israel warned.