A partial paean to coexistence in Morocco

This is another article, based on an Australian ABC TV report,  regretting the end of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in Morocco. Joseph Sebag, the last Jew of Essaouira,  is its poster boy. Israel is portrayed as the cause of the exodus and the Jews of Morocco persuaded to leave against their better judgement by Zionist agents. The threats of forced conversion, abduction and daily incidents of violence and intimidation are omitted, or minimised, and the six-year emigration ban to Palestine not mentioned.  What is new, is that French colonialism is also blamed (and the teaching of Hebrew instead of Arabic!)  for tearing the two communities apart before Israel’s creation. Yet the French can be credited for liberating the Jews from their subjugated dhimmi status under Islam.

Joseph Sebag, last Jew of Essaouira

In an antique shop in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira sits Joseph Sebag, a charming old man with a shy smile.

He is all that remains of the city’s once thriving Jewish community. But he remembers what it was like before the exodus.

“There was no Jew that didn’t have a Muslim friend, and there was no Muslim that didn’t have a Jewish friend,” Mr Sebag says.

Jewish merchants first arrived in Africa around 500 BC.
In the centuries that followed, thousands of Jews fleeing persecution
in Europe established new lives in Morocco.

For most of Morocco’s history, Jewish people lived in relative harmony with Muslims.

But when Israel was established in 1948 the friendship was severed beyond repair.

Tensions between Arabs and Jews, which had been stroked under French colonial rule, exploded into a terminal confrontation.

Arab nationalists expressed their solidarity with displaced Palestinians by turning on their Jewish neighbours.

In Morocco, as with much of the Arab world, many Jewish communities faced looting, arson, and riots.

“It was very sad, people that had lived there for hundreds of years all packed up and went,” Mr Sebag says.

Jewish men praying the “Birkat Hahamma” (blessing of the sun) at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery, Fez, Morocco 1953. (Beit Hatfutsot)


The country was once home to more than
300,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population of any country in the Arab
world. It now hosts only 5,000.

“Before the exodus the Jews in
Morocco were everywhere, in the cities, in the small villages,” says
Mechthild Gilzmer, a professor in Jewish studies at Saarland University.

“It was a large and vibrant community.”

the biblical exodus of ancient Jews from Egypt, the migration of Arab
Jews in the 20th century was more like a slow divorce than an instant

For more than 30 years before the creation of Israel,
French colonists had been working to drive a wedge between Muslims and
Jews in Morocco.

Education programs were rolled out encouraging
Jews to embrace French culture and language. Classical Arabic was left
off the curriculum in favour of Hebrew.

A symptom of disintegrating relations, looting and rioting broke out in Jewish Quarter of Fez in 1912.

fled large cities to smaller towns and villages on the urban outskirts,
creating Jewish ghettos reminiscent of 19th century Europe. (This makes no sense – surely the opposite was true ?-ed)

In Morocco some Jews left to seek the
long-promised land, but many chose to stay despite the growing tide of
anti-Semitism in some cities.

“Unlike elsewhere in the Arab world,
the creation of Israel did not immediately spark widespread animosity
or attacks on Jews [in Morocco],” Professor Gilzmer says. (A statement contradicted by what follows – ed)

the flag of the newly-established Arab League, the Moroccan nationalist
press began fostering hostility against Jewish Moroccans. Many shops
and homes were looted.

In the early weeks of June 1948 an
anti-Jewish riot broke out in the north-eastern Moroccan towns of Oujda
and Jerada. At least 44 people were killed.

After a long history of coexistence, “many Jews were made to feel like they were no longer welcome”, Professor Gilzmer says.

After the violence in Oujda and Jereda, the
stream of Jews making the journey across the Mediterranean became a
flood. By 1950, 18,000 of Morocco’s Jews left for Israel.

Marc Cohen left Morocco 50 years ago, when he was 18. He now lives in Melbourne.

“I remember buses full of Jewish people not knowing where they were going,” he says.

 “They started closing one synagogue after the other, most of my school friends left, and then everybody left.

“For many it was the end of the exile”.

a backdrop of rising Arab nationalism, European Zionists began arriving
at Moroccan synagogues telling stories of the new Jewish homeland. They
encouraged the local Jewish community to migrate.

Israel had sent dozens of Mossad officers to North Africa who acted as missionaries for the Zionist cause.

to Professor Gilzmer, even when threats were minimal, “many Jews left
after being told by Zionist agents they were in danger”.

Read article in full


  • Too right, Eliyahu. The Arabs are never to blam for anything. Gilzmer's stance that France is to blame for destroying the 'harmony' between Jews and Arabs is very similar to that of Benjamin Stora. Gilzmer seems to have migrated to this speciality from French literature.

  • "A symptom of disintegrating relations, looting and rioting broke out in Jewish Quarter of Fez in 1912"

    According to historical information, the French protectorate over Morocco was only established in 1912. Can we blame the french for the pogrom in Fez in that year? Can we blame the State of Israel that was founded in 1948?
    What about the 19th century attacks on Jews in the Maghreb that are documented in the files of the Alliance Israelite Universelle? France's fault? Israel's fault? How about the beheading of Sol Hathuel in the early 19th century as shown in the famous painting by Alfred Dehodencq [ https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Hachuel ]
    This is not to whitewash the French role in North Africa in sometimes instigating or encouraging Arab attacks on Jews, as at Constantine in 1934. But this piece is ludicrous.

    Anyway, who is this "expert" Mechthild Gilzmer? Never heard of her. But as a German intellectual, maybe her motives are suspect.


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