Most Moroccan Jews ‘never died a natural death’

 The myth of happy Jewish-Muslim coexistence in Morocco is one of the most persistent. Exile in the Maghreb. by David Littman and Paul Fenton, is a corrective to this historical distortion. Ruthie Blum reviews the book for the Gatestone Institute (with thanks: Imre, Doug):

Exile in the Maghreb,
co-authored by the great historian David G. Littman and
Paul B. Fenton, is an ambitious tome contradicting the
myth of how breezy it was for Jews to live in their
homelands in the Middle East and North Africa when they
came under Muslim rule.

“Ever since the Middle Ages,”
the book jarringly illustrates, “anti-Jewish persecution
has been endemic to Muslim North Africa.”

Littman, before his untimely
death from leukemia in 2012, had intended this book on the
Maghreb to be the first in a series that would cover the
social condition of the Jews of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt,
Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Iran and Turkey — an
ambitious project that he was unable to tackle in its

The impetus for the book, which
was first published in French in 2010
and in English in 2016, was to expose the
misrepresentation by certain historians of the relations
between the Jews of Morocco and Algeria and their Arab
rulers. One such historian cited in the book was the
French Orientalist, Claude Cahen, who dreamily
wrote in his chapter on “Dhimma” in the Encylopaedia of Islam:

“There is nothing in medieval
Islam which could specifically be called
anti-Semitism… Islam has, in spite of many upsets,
shown more toleration than Europe toward Jews who
remained in Muslim lands.”

The original idea for the book
— a massive collection of personal testimonies, photos
and documents spanning ten centuries (from 997-1912) — came
to Littman when he was on a humanitarian trip to Morocco
in 1961. Littman noted:

“Following the independence of
their country in 1956, the Jews of Morocco had begun to
redefine their hopes regarding the future. Whereas new
opportunities for them began to loom on the horizon, I
was astonished to observe that the Moroccan Jews were
making every possible effort to leave their native land
to immigrate to the struggling young State of Israel or
even to Europe, whose communities were still painfully
recovering from the tragedies of World War II.”

In an article for the Jerusalem Post — entitled,
Exploding the myth of Moroccan
” — Lyn Julius described an anti-Israel documentary by Al Jazeera
that blamed the Mossad for “play[ing] a key role in
convincing thousands of Moroccan Jews that they were in
danger and covertly facilitated their departure” to the
newly established state of Israel. Prior to that,
according to the broadcast, “Jews first began to settle in
Morocco over 2,000 years ago and for centuries they and
Muslims have happily co-existed there.”

Julius writes that Exile in the Maghreb
provides “a corrective to this common historical

There is, for example the
account of Samuel Romanelli (1758-1814), an Italian Jew
who visited Morocco at the end of Sultan Sidi Mohammad
III’s reign (1757-1790), and wrote about his travels in Oracle from an Arab Land

“Most of them [the Jews of
Morocco] never die a natural death nor do they share the
lot of common mortals: execution, torture,
expropriation, incarceration are their fate. Their
bodies might be mutilated and their residences turned
into cesspools…”

In the article, “What Is a ‘Refugee’? The Jews
from Morocco versus the Palestinians from Israel
published earlier this year, the renowned lawyer, Alan
Dershowitz, writes:

“Jews lived in Morocco for
centuries before Islam came to Casablanca, Fez and
Marrakesh. The Jews, along with the Berbers, were the
backbone of the economy and culture. Now their historic
presence can be seen primarily in the hundreds of Jewish
cemeteries and abandoned synagogues that are omnipresent
in cities and towns throughout the Maghreb…

“Now they are a remnant in
Morocco and gone from the other countries. Some left
voluntarily to move to Israel after 1948. Many were
forced to flee by threats, pogroms and legal decrees,
leaving behind billions of dollars in property and the
graves of their ancestors.

“Today, Morocco’s Jewish
population is less than 5,000, as contrasted with
250,000 at its peak. To his credit, King Mohammad VI has
made a point of preserving the Jewish heritage of
Morocco, especially its cemeteries. He has better
relations with Israel than other Muslim countries but
still does not recognize Israel and have diplomatic
relations with the nation state of the Jewish People. It
is a work in progress. His relationship with his small
Jewish community, most of whom are avid Zionists, is

in the Maghreb
is a most important book, which sets
the record straight about the true plight of the Jews
after the conquests of the lands in which they had
peacefully resided.

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