Moroccan Jewish Community Life – Page 2

Community Life During the Protectorate

During the 44 years of the Protectorate, Morocco suffered through the French policy of “association,” which made the pretense of maintaining the Sultan’s authority but gave true political and economic power to the French Resident-General. Rather than giving Jews French citizenship as they did in Algeria, France allowed the Sultan to retain the Jews as his subject. Jews were allowed to leave the mellahs in 1912.

Marshall Lyautey, 1st Resident-General of French Morocco
By Leo Wehrli –, Public Domain,

The rest of the Jews remained in the mellahs, which became increasingly crowded and unsanitary, due to large families and migration of Jews from the towns and villages in the mountain and desert areas of the country. Greater imports of European consumer goods and immigration of skilled French shopkeepers and workers put many Jews working in traditional production and sales out of business.

To control the Jewish community, France imposed its own version of Jewish councils and created a central rabbinical court. It also created an inspector general of Jewish institutions who oversaw implementation of protectorate policy by the Jewish councils. These measures reduced the autonomy given to Jewish communities under the pre-protectorate dhimmi system.

As a means of gaining the favor of Morocco’s Jews, France included them in municipal councils and indigenous sections of chambers of commerce, agriculture and industry. The French Resident-General also provide compensation to the Jews of Fez for the losses they suffered during the riots of 1912 that followed signing of the Protectorate treaty.

As France increased its control over Morocco, Moroccan Jews suffered from both the antisemitism of French colonists and the love/hate feelings of Moroccan nationalists who were inspired by pan-Arabism and unclear where Jews would fit in an independent Morocco.

Poster for 2011 Mimouna Club conference honoring Mohammed V for protecting Moroccan Jews during World War II

During World War II, the French Vichy government controlled the French Protectorate of Morocco. Its representatives attempted unsuccessfully to delay implementation of anti-Jewish policies. Sultan Mohammed V resisted efforts to send Moroccan Jews to concentration camps in Europe, but was unable to prevent discriminatory policies against wealthy Jews. The Jewish elite were forced out of their homes in the new European cities to return to the mellahs.  Jewish students were removed from French-controlled schools and universities, and many Jewish doctors and lawyers were forced to stop their practices. The Protectorate limited Jews to 2% of doctors and lawyers and 10% of secondary teachers.

During World War II, the Spanish fascist government under Francisco Franco controlled northern Morocco and also took control of the international city of Tangier, removing some of the protections for Jews established in 1923. Tangier became a major transit center for Jewish refugees from Europe.

Pupils assembled in the yard of the Alliance School for Boys in Tangier, 1931. Paris, Alliance Israelite Universelle

Throughout the period of the protectorate, including during the two world wars, the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) expanded its network of schools for Jews throughout Morocco. The French government initially subsidized the schools and then completely supported them. Few of these schools taught students to read and write in Arabic. Their objective was to integrate Jewish children and their parents into French civilization, rather than to prepare them for Moroccan citizenship.

Political Zionists in Tetouan (1921), From ANU Museum of the Jewish Diaspora Photo Archive, Tel Aviv, Courtesy of Israel Saloman, Tel Aviv

While Jewish Moroccans never lost their feelings of being in exile from the Jewish homeland, these were religious messianic feelings, not a commitment to political Zionism. A tiny number of political Zionists were active in Tetouan and some coastal cities.  The AIU, in its efforts to spread French culture, initially opposed Zionism, but became more neutral toward it after World War II. After the creation of the state of Israel, the AIU cooperated with Israeli institutions and recruiters to facilitate the emigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel.

Jacob Cerfaty, Chairman of the Tetouan Jewish Community Council, next to a picture of King Mohammed V, 
addressing a meeting of the Itiqlal Party, Jewish Club, Tetouan, 1956. 
From ANU Museum of the Jewish Diaspora Photo Archives, Courtesy of Avraham Zerfaty, Netania     

An even smaller group of Jewish Moroccans joined the Moroccan Communist Party after World War II. Together with French communists and Moroccan Muslims, they fought for independence and cooperated with an equally small number of Jewish members of the independence party, Istiqlal.