How the Sultan’s Jewish Communists served Morocco

There is a good reason why  the handful of Moroccan Jews who were Communists, now the focus of a new book by Alma Heckman, became the face of  King Mohamed VI’s public relations campaign: they were anti-Zionists. Unlike the Jewish Communists driven out from Egypt or Iraq, the  Moroccan Jewish Communists stayed behind, shunned by the great mass of Zionist Moroccan Jewry and unable to resist the tide of antisemitic nationalism engulfing the country in the 1960s. (In his conversation (French) with the Moroccan political scientist Abdelila Bouasria (at approx 1:15 mins), the Israeli historian Yigal Bin-Nun calls the Jewish Communists ‘stupid’ –  they had sacrificed their lives for ideology). Interesting review of Heckman’s book  in Times of Israel by Sheldon Kirshner (with thanks: Laurence): 

Writer Edmond Amram El Maleh
Simon Levy, Founder of the Casablanca Jewish Museum


Jewish Communists had no problem rejecting Zionism. Their position was “one critical means of expressing devotion to the Moroccan state.” As El Maleh wrote in 1949, “We are Moroccans, we are not ‘foreigners,’ as the Zionists would have us believe … We are deeply Moroccan.”

Communists like him encouraged Jews to become more involved in the national liberation movement. But for most Jews, the fierce anti-Zionist atmosphere that enveloped Morocco was problematic, to say the least.

A few months before Israel’s proclamation of statehood, the Istiqlal claimed that all Jews were Zionists and exhorted Muslims to boycott Jewish shops and commercial enterprises. Following Israel’s creation, Sultan Mohammad V denounced Zionism, but urged Jews “not to lose sight of the fact they are Moroccans” and warned them to “abstain from any act that might support the Zionist aggression …”

In 1955, the sultan assured a Jewish delegation that Jews are “citizens with full rights like their Muslim compatriots.” He then appointed his Jewish personal physician, Dr. Leon Benzaquen, a member of Istiqlal, as a minister in the new government.

A year later, after the outbreak of the Sinai war, the sultan told Jewish dignitaries that Jews should remain in Morocco “because their place is here.”

By then, Jews were leaving Morocco in droves. Under popular pressure, the sultan banned Jewish emigration, only to lift the ban months later*, enabling an additional 92,000 Jews to leave between 1961 and 1964. With the death of the sultan, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, his son and the future King Hassan II, ascended to the Moroccan throne. Uncertain of what lay ahead, still more Jews departed.

In the meantime, the PCM denounced antisemitism as antithetical to Moroccan “tradition,” called for greater monitoring of “notorious Zionist agents” who were “denationalizing” Jews, and asked Jews and Muslims to reject the polarizing effects of Zionism.

Amid the tensions, the Istiqlal began publishing openly antisemitic tracts. And one of its former leaders, Allal al-Fassi, said condescendingly that Jews “are nothing but dhimmis,” a derogatory word for tolerated minorities in Muslim societies.

In the aftermath of the Six Day War, Jewish businesses were boycotted. King Hassan II, the self-styled “protector” of Jews, defended the Jewish community and urged Moroccans to distinguish between Jews and Zionists. But he warned Moroccan Jews that their rights as citizens could be compromised by their endorsement of Zionism.

Jewish Communists issued a public declaration calling on Jews to cease their Zionist activities.

Morocco spent a small expeditionary force to Syria during the Yom Kippur War, but the king assured the Jewish community that its security would not be jeopardized.

Upon the Hassan’s death in 1999, his successor, King Mohammad VI, sought to portray Morocco as a beacon of tolerance and pluralism. Jewish Communists, who always had remained loyal to the monarchy, were only too glad to be coopted into the government’s public relations campaign.

“They, too, would become the ‘Sultan’s Communists,’” says Heckman. “They became the very international face of Moroccan openness … while simultaneously being shunned by the majority Jewish community.”

Read article in full

*Emigration was banned between 1956 and 1961 – ed

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