Factor 7: Zionist and other foreign Jewish groups

Jews who acted as consuls of foreign states together with prominent local leaders,
at a garden party in honor of the second anniversary of Morocco’s independence. Tetouan, 1958.
From ANU Museum of the Jewish People Photo Archive, courtesy of Israel Salomon, Tel Aviv

The seventh factor leading to mass emigration beginning in 1950 was the intervention of Zionist groups and foreign Jewish organizations into Morocco. Zionist recruiters exacerbated feelings of insecurity among Moroccan Jews. They convinced them that life would be better in Israel. Foreign Jewish organizations, both Zionist and non-Zionist, facilitated emigration.

Prior to World War II, any longing to emigrate to Israel was based on messianic religious sentiments. Almost no Moroccans were part of the World Zionist movement. A small group of Moroccan Zionists attended the 1944 conference of World Jewish Congress in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the decision was made to fight for a Jewish state. During 1947 and 1948, France banned emigration to Israel. In mid-1948, the Israeli Haganah organized a secret emigration network through Algeria and Marseilles. After the reputed French-instigated June 1948 riots against Jews in Eastern Morocco, the Jewish Agency and the French Government agreed to create a transit camp on the Atlantic Coast. Some Israelis compared the riots to those of Fez in 1912, in efforts to scare Jews about the perils following independence. Subsequently, 92,000 Jews left before independence.

After 1951, a variety of Zionist and non-Zionist movements turned their attention to Moroccan Jews, providing assistance, Hebrew education and training that facilitated emigration. Kibbutzim, moshavim, a variety of Israeli political parties, Israeli governmental departments, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish scouts of France, and American Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Ozar Hatorah, and the Lubavitch all established themselves in Morocco.

In the early 1950’s, Israel was very selective of its immigrants from Morocco, despite the interest of Moroccan Jewish leaders in encouraging emigration. The elderly and the mentally disturbed were left off the lists in favor of those who were healthy and in their working years. As independence approached, it was unclear how long Jewish emigration would be allowed to take place so freely. The Zionist movement began to recruit seriously Moroccans Jews, particularly those in the southern Amazigh areas. To meet its needs for agricultural labor and to increase the number of Jews in geographic areas with Arab majorities, Israel set a quota of 45,000 emigrants, a figure that was negotiated between the World Jewish Congress and the Moroccan Nationalists in August 1955. To pick up the pace, Zionist recruiters prevailed on the Marrakesh Jewish leaders to deliver the required number of emigrants. The Jewish leaders in Marrakesh called for the mass evacuation of Jews throughout the South, regardless of the actual economic, social and political conditions in their communities. While they believed that the residents of these communities should emigrate to Israel, they themselves waited until the 1970’s and 80’s to emigrate to France or Canada.

Yehuda Grinker, an organizer of the exodus of Jews from the Atlas Mountains south of Marrakesh, was clear about the reasons he came to Morocco:

“The more I visited in these (Amazigh) villages and became acquainted with their Jewish inhabitants, the more I was convinced that these Jews constitute the best and most suitable human element for settlement in Israel’s absorption centers. There were many positive aspects which I found among them: first and foremost, they all know (their agricultural) tasks, and their transfer to agricultural work in Israel will not involve physical and mental difficulties. They are satisfied with few (material needs), which will enable them to confront their early economic problems. It is possible to settle them in a mountainous region, in the Negev and elsewhere. There will be other problems, however: how to train them to utilize various modern tools that are so vital nowadays. ” (Yehuda Grinker, The Emigration of Atlas Jews to Israel, Tel Aviv, The Association of Moroccan Immigrants in Israel, 1973)

While most Zionist recruiters were inspired by the ideals of creating a Jewish homeland, some of them felt it was necessary to provoke communities into fleeing by creating a climate of fear and spreading rumors about anti-Semitic incidents. Rumors were spread about unconfirmed cases of rape, kidnapping and forced conversions of Jewish children. Such actions may have been inspired by Israeli President Ben Gurion, who called immigrants from Arab countries “human dust lacking language, education, roots, tradition or national dreams.” (Quoted in T. Herzl, L’Etat des juifs, Paris, la Decouverte, 1990, p. 42)

Jews considering emigration to Israel were promised a better life where all Jews would be equal citizens. Instead, most were steered to development towns with little economic opportunity or to agricultural settlements in regions heavily populated by Arabs. It took many years for the Ashkenazi elite in Israel to pay attention to the suffering of the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from Arab-majority countries. Many Moroccan emigrants communicated their disappointment about their new life to those Jews still left in Morocco, slowing down emigration.