Tag: Dhimmitude

Forced conversions in 1960s Morocco were a factor in the mass Jewish exodus

A Moroccan woman from Marrakesh, Fatiha Morchid, contacted a Moroccan-Jewish geneaological Facebook page a few days ago. She was asking for help tracing her mother.  A year ago, her mother-in-law had told her that Fatiha’s Muslim father had taken her from her Jewish mother when he discovered that she was planning to emigrate to Israel. The father had since died.  On the Facebook page, the Morchid case led to a discussion of the forced conversions  of Jewish girls to Islam in the 1960s, an important factor in the mass Jewish exodus. The conversion problem was most acute following the establishment of a Ministry of Islamic Affairs (abolished in 1963) but went to the heart of the status of Jews in independent Morocco – were they full citizens or dhimmis subject to sharia law? Vanessa Paloma Elbaz explores this little-discussed subject in her Academia article of 2015: 
In the years following Morocco’s independence there were many cases of young Jewish girls who were kidnapped and converted to Islam to be married off to Muslim Moroccans. Sometimes abducted from school and cut off from all contact with their families and with Jews, these young girls, mostly from a low socio-economic level, have come to terms with the idea of ​​living their lives as Muslims. Their families had no idea how to find them, and the authorities were of no help. In some cases, families learned of the fate of their daughters when the Istiqlal political party’s Al-Alam newspaper began publishing series of photos of converted Jewish girls with their “original” Jewish names followed by their new Muslim names.
Pictures of Jewish girls converted to Islam were published almost daily in the Moroccan press in the early 1960s
“The community newspaper La Voix des Communautés of May-June 1961 was dedicated almost completely to the problem of forced conversions. A long article that describes the Moroccan penal code, explains the important points in the law that concern conversion and forced marriages. The penal code stipulates the rights of the family of an underage girl who was kidnapped and forced into a forced marriage, which the article compares to halakha (Jewish law). Moroccan Jews were and continue to be judged according to Mosaic law. The conclusion in this issue is that any conversion of a minor (age set  by the Jews at less than 20 years old) was deemed null and void according to Jewish law. On the other hand, Moroccan law said that a vow of conversion made by a person of just 12 to 13 years old (set  as the age of intellectual maturity according to Moroccan Muslims) is valid. It is important to note that we are talking about a time when women married and were mothers generally before they reached the age of twenty, which demonstrates that the Jews used this argument to better safeguard their community.
The problem of forced conversions of Jewish girls to Islam became so acute that the Jewish organ ‘La Voix des Communautés’ devoted a whole issue to the subject in 1962
David Amar, president of the community at the time, wrote that when he raised this problem with the Ministry of Justice to solve the problem of  legal immunity in these cases,  he received an indirect response in the shape of the publication, almost every day,  by the newspaper Al-Alam of a series of photographs of converted Jewish girls. The ensuing debate over the legality of forced conversions raised the question of the status of the Jew in independent Morocco – whether he was a full citizen or a dhimmi.
The then Minister of Islamic Affairs, Allal el Fassi, was at the heart of this controversy. For months, the community quarrel was public and it was quoted in the newspaper L’Avant-Garde of Saturday August 11, 1962:
“Moroccan means Muslim. Moroccan nationality was created by the French protectorate.
All Moroccans are Muslims: the “Moroccan” Jew is only a dhimmi (: a dhimmi is a non-Muslim living in the Land of Islam and paying a tax to the State, in return for which he is protected). This practice originated with the Islamic conquest. From now on, no foreigner can acquire Moroccan nationality if he does not embrace Islam.”
As one might imagine, leaders of the Jewish community began a campaign against this perception of the Moroccan Jew as a dhimmi. Morocco’s transition from the Protectorate to independent Morocco was not immediately translated into full and equal citizenship for its Jews. King Hassan II then reiterated that all Moroccans were equal citizens, as his father Mohammed V had said at the time of Independence.
Another sign of support given to Moroccan Jews was a Jew, Léon Benzaken, serving in the first cabinet of independent Morocco as Minister of Posts. But the Jews were helpless in the face of hundreds of kidnapped girls and the conversion campaign was under the aegis of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and the minister’s words about Jews as dhimmis were in effect saying just the opposite. This was one of the reasons that led some families to leave independent Morocco.
A journalist, Carlos de Nesry,  established the link between forced conversions, mass emigration to Israel, the symbol of Solika and the revival of her story as a way of saving Moroccan Judaism. In the July-August 1962 issue of La Voix des Communautés,  he says:
…”Should Morocco revive these ancient quarrels, shards of obscurantism, so incompatible with its current desire for modernity,  international opinion will not take long to express its disapproval . In the meantime, the exodus of Moroccan Jews will only gather pace.
One day, at the beginning of the last century, a young Israelite from Tangier, named Sol Hachuel, was kidnapped and converted against her will. She was beheaded a short time later in Fez, because she persisted in remaining faithful to the religion of her fathers. Canonised by the pious masses, she is still venerated as a symbol and an example. Is it beyond imagination that a second Sol might end up being martyred in our day? What then will become of Moroccan Judaism? “

Regev: Muslim antisemitism is not an aberration

Recent terror attacks in Israel and violence on the Temple Mount have their roots in longstanding anti-Jewish prejudice.   Muslim-Jewish relations have never been idyllic and the destruction of indigenous Jewish communities was never simply a reaction to the failure to destroy Israel, argues Mark Regev, former Israel ambassador to the UK, in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Sandra):

Mark Regev: Islam has never had a tolerance for the Jewish state

It has been suggested that this Muslim antisemitism is an aberration, the exception to centuries of peaceful Jewish-Muslim coexistence, and that this contemporary animosity stems from the modern clash between Arab nationalism and Zionism.

In this view, it was the birth and growth of the Jewish national movement that energized Islamic enmity, fueling events like the Farhud pogrom in Bagdad in 1941 where some 180 Jews were killed, and the violence across Libya in 1945, where a further 140 Jews were murdered.

Moreover, the post-World War II near-total exodus of the Islamic world’s one million Jewish inhabitants, involving the destruction of indigenous Jewish communities whose presence in the Middle East predated Islam, is explained not by the antisemitism disseminated by Husseini and his ilk, but by the Arab world’s failed attempt to destroy the Jewish state at birth in 1948-49.

Those who celebrate pre-Zionist Jewish-Muslim harmony point to Spain in the Middle Ages, where Muslim control facilitated a Jewish “golden age” of intellectual, cultural and economic vitality. This is contrasted with the parallel reality in Christian Europe, where the omnipresent charge of deicide demanded constant retribution – manifesting itself ferociously during the Crusades with the mass slaughter of European Jewish communities, and the massacre, expulsion and Inquisition that followed the Reconquista, the reestablishment of Christian rule in Spain.

But just as it is important not to understate Christian antisemitism, it is crucial not to overplay Muslim tolerance. Middle East historian Bernard Lewis suggested distinguishing between two concepts: persecution and discrimination.

In reference to the former, Lewis wrote that “classic Islamic society was indeed tolerant of both its Jewish and Christian subjects – more tolerant perhaps in Spain than in the East, and in either incomparably more tolerant than was medieval Christendom.”

Yet when it came to discrimination, “Islam never was or claimed to be tolerant, but on the contrary, insisted on the privileged superiority of the true believer.”

While acknowledging that antisemitic violence in the Islamic world was less pronounced than in Christian Europe, it is incorrect to portray an idyllic picture of Jewish-Muslim relations. Jews under Islam were classified as dhimmis, and although their lives and property were ostensibly safeguarded, that protection necessitated a subordinate status – an inbuilt social, political and legal inferiority.

Many of today’s anti-Zionists will be surprised to learn that discrimination of Jews under Islamic rule was recorded by none other than Karl Marx. Writing in 1854, some half-century prior to the rise of political Zionism, Marx described the situation of Jerusalem’s Jews under Ottoman rule: “Nothing equals the misery and the suffering of the Jews of Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter of the town… [They are] the constant objects of oppression and intolerance…”

In the decades following Marx’s article, the situation of Jews in the Middle East improved with the lessening of historic dhimmi discrimination. But as this process was inspired by liberal European ideas, it brought with it an anti-Jewish backlash, heightening the association of the indigenous Jew with the hated foreigner.

Paradoxically, many Muslims who rejected western influence still eagerly embraced European antisemitic tropes, including the blood libel, most famously in Damascus in 1840, and the global Jewish conspiracy, evident in numerous Arabic editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

Undoubtedly the birth and development of Zionism contributed to Islamic hostility, building upon long-standing prejudicial attitudes. For while traditional Islam was willing to tolerate Jews whose status was safely inferior, Jewish aspirations for national self-determination and equality among the nations ran counter to centuries of established Islamic teaching.

While serving as Israel’s ambassador in London I experienced my first Ramadan breaking-the-fast iftar meal. Jewish-Muslim coexistence groups promote joint iftar events, but generally the subject of Israel is politely left at the doorstep, it being understood that a discussion of the Jewish state could negatively impact the desired ambiance. Yet, the Israeli embassy also hosted an annual iftar meal, attended by a small group of remarkable Muslims willing to engage.

Recent developments provide some optimism as to the trajectory of Jewish-Muslim relations. The Abraham Accords’ breakthroughs are significant and include a state-to-state interfaith and intercultural dialogue designed to enhance understanding. And in Israel, MK Mansour Abbas is breaking stereotypes, demonstrating that political Islam doesn’t have to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s unbridled hostility.

Genuine Muslim-Jewish coexistence is neither simple nor impossible, requiring the expansion of Islam’s commitment to tolerance to include an appreciation of the Jews’ desire not to revert to their former subservient status.

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US interfaith initiative will include Mizrahi Jews

Jews and Muslims in the US have launched an interfaith  project which for the first time includes Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in order to highlight positive aspects of a shared history. It is called the Mukhayriq project, named after a rabbi who laid down his life on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad. See my comment below. Report in JNS News:

Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women's Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Credit: Anila Ali/Twitter.
Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Photo: Anila Ali/Twitter.

Cohanim said previous efforts to bring Muslims and Jews together have had only tepid success and in some cases failed altogether as the people behind them were found to have connections to radical organizations. What sets this initiative apart is that it brings Jews from the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) into the project. “Surprisingly enough, Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews have been excluded from a lot of these efforts in the Jewish community in the past,” she said.

The timing of the initiative couldn’t be better, said Cohanim, noting that there is a new openness among Muslims in the MENA region to rediscover the “indigenous Jewish communities that existed in the region for thousands of years.” She said Muslims want to learn more about that history and even “to reach out to those former neighbors.” She noted that among Jews, there is also a “real excitement” to learn more about Islam and Muslim communities, not just in the MENA region but around the world.

The initiative’s first major project is an accelerator program, in which applicants submit project ideas that would bring Muslims and Jews together. Those selected will receive part of a $50,000 funding pool and work with board members to see their idea brought to fruition. A maximum of 20 applicants will be accepted.

My comment: While any initiative to increase understanding between Jews and Muslims is welcome, and the inclusion of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews long overdue,  the implication of Mukhayriq is that it is Jews who must sacrifice themselves to advance understanding. Just two years  after Mukhayrik’s sacrifice, Muhammad fought the Banu Qurayza Jewish tribe and had 600 of their men beheaded. Jews were ultimately defeated and banished from Arabia. From then on, they were subject to institutionalised antisemitism in the form of the dhimmi status.  It might have been more effective to name this project after a Muslim who saved Jews.

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Jewish-Muslim dialogue must not whitewash the dark side of life under Islam

In this perceptive post on pitfalls of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, Rafael Castle observes that hierarchical Arab/Muslim antisemitism is not the same as ontological Christian antisemitism.  It is necessary to mention the dark side of Jewish life under Islam in order to vindicate Zionism. (With thanks to Rafael for letting us re-post.)

 

Highlighting the positive may not lead to reconciliation
The French film director Claude Lanzmann, celebrated for his documentary “Shoah”, once remarked that in order to encourage Arab schoolchildren to sympathize with Jews, he would highlight how during the Holocaust the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris helped save Jews from Nazi deportations. This modus operandi is quite ubiquitous and is also reflected in Jewish efforts to showcase Muslim righteousness during the Holocaust in predominantly Islamic Albania, Bosnia and Tunisia. Analogous efforts have also sought to highlight how Jewish life in Muslim lands was historically better than Jewish life in Christian lands.
In my opinion, these efforts are necessary in order to dispel the prejudice popular among quite a few Jews that Arabs and Muslims are irremediably vicious anti-Semites. Such efforts, directed toward Muslims do not serve the cause of Jewish-Muslim reconciliation, but actually add to the amount of resentment and hostility in the Muslim camp.
These efforts are often orchestrated by Ashkenazi Jews who conflate Christian antisemitism with Islamic antisemitism. Christian European antisemitism is nevertheless fundamentally different from Arab Islamic antisemitism. Christian antisemitism is ontological: The Jew by virtue of rejecting Christ as his savior is implicitly complicit in the death of God’s son. Islamic antisemitism is hierarchical: As long as the Jew is subordinate and docile toward Islam, the Jew is actually an asset to the prestige and truth of the Prophet’s message.
That is the reason antisemitism in Islamic lands reached historically Christian proportions only once Zionism proved to the world that Jews were better than Muslims at fighting and ruling. Since Islamic pride hinges on Muslim political and military power, defeat at the hands of Jews, the model dhimmis during over one thousand years, provoked an existential crisis in the Ummah: The Jew, in order to defeat Muslims on the battlefield, must have conjured diabolical forces. Hence, the contemporary myth popular in the Islamic world, that Jews are an all-powerful cabal bent on destroying Islam.
For this reason, when Muslims are reminded about the Golden Age of Judeo-Islamic harmony in Andalusia, the hospitality extended by Ottoman rulers to Jews fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition and more recently, Muslim rescue efforts during the Holocaust, they easily read history as follows: “Look at the Jews, after all the kindness we extended to them throughout the centuries, they repaid us Muslims with the Nakba and the occupation of Jerusalem. What a thankless lot!”
To avert this reaction, any Jewish-Muslim attitude must mention the dark sides of Jewish life under Islam: Starting with the massacre of Khaybar and culminating in the Farhud of 1941 which heralded the end of thousands of years of peaceful Jewish life in Iraq. It is only once these tragic chapters are read that Muslims can understand that Zionism was not just legitimized by European Christian antisemitism, but also by the injustices and abuses that the Ummah heaped on its Jewish subjects, including the complicity of Palestine’s supreme leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, with Hitler’s plans to destroy the Jewish people.

Amnesty’s anti-Zionism is a recipe for disaster

The head of Amnesty International’s US branch has a vision for a de-Judaised Israel which is likely to become yet another failed Arab state. The majority of Israel’s Jews – refugees from Arab and Muslim countries and their descendants – did not escape violence and persecution in order to find themselves once more under Arab-Muslim domination. Lyn Julius writes in JNS News:

Paul O’Brien addressing the Woman’s National Democratic Club (Photo: Jewish Insider)

“The right of people to self-determination is something I believe in … but we are opposed to the idea that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.”

Paul O’Brien, the non-Jewish executive director of Amnesty International USA, stirred up a storm of protest with this self-contradictory statement, despite attempts to walk it back. There was a good reason for this: O’Brien appears to believe that all peoples are entitled to self-determination, except the Jews. There’s a name for that kind of double standard—anti-Semitism. For this alone, O’Brien deserves the opprobrium heaped upon him.

With what would O’Brien replace a Jewish state?

“Jewish people want to know that there’s a sanctuary that is a safe and sustainable place that the Jewish people can call home,” he told a Women’s National Democratic Club audience. “The key to sustainability is to adhere to what I see as core Jewish values, which are to be principled and fair and just in creating that space.”

It could be argued that Jews enjoy a place of safety in the United States. Although, if you are an ultra-Orthodox Jew in New Jersey, for example, your sense of safety might be fraying at the edges. But to project the values of a pluralistic democracy onto the Middle East, as O’Brien does, smacks of mind-blowing naiveté.

In O’Brien’s dystopian scenario for a de-Judaized Israel, the Law of Return that grants all diaspora Jews Israeli citizenship would be abrogated, giving them nowhere to flee if necessary. “Hatikvah” would cease to be the national anthem. And, very quickly, Israel would become a majority-Arab state.

The Arab world is full of failed and authoritarian states. Its record on democracy and pluralism is disastrous. And tellingly, with the exception of tiny communities in the Gulf and Morocco, the Arab world is now judenrein. In the wake of the Jewish exodus from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, Yazidis, Maronites, Baha’is, Copts, Assyrians and Chaldeans have streamed out as well. The Arab world’s failure to establish a society respectful of dissent, of minority and women’s rights, promises a bleak future of subjugation and intolerance.

Ironically, the million Jews who fled the MENA region they had inhabited since 1,000 years before the rise of Islam were victims of “apartheid” by Amnesty International’s own definition: “deprivation, segregation, fragmentation and dispossession.” Amnesty’s silence on this massive injustice is deafening. And, needless to say, the 650,000 Jews who sought a haven in Israel from Arab and Muslim countries and now form a majority of Israeli Jews did not escape in order to find themselves once more under Arab-Muslim domination.

Until the colonial era granted them greater security, Jews occupied a space in the Muslim polity—“the Jewish quarter in an Arab town.” They lived as inferior “dhimmis” at the mercy of the ruler of the day and paid him the jizya tax, i.e. protection money. Under a benevolent ruler, the Jews could thrive.

At other times, they could not escape violence and oppression. They might have exercised influence as courtiers or advisers, but they never exercised power. To them, the “core Jewish values” evoked by O’Brien meant powerlessness—knowing your place, keeping your head down and accepting “dhimmitude,” which was, again, apartheid according to Amnesty itself. For all intents and purposes, O’Brien is advocating that Jews revert to their former status as a vulnerable minority.

It is likely that the Jews Paul O’Brien meets are the type who belong to Jewish Voice for Peace, delusional liberals who are willing to trade in Jewish sovereignty for his “core Jewish values.” These individuals aim “to promote Jewish powerlessness once again, in an effort to restore the apparent moral purity of a Jewish powerless existence,” as the Israeli academic and former politician Einat Wilf puts it.

Holocaust survivors, Ethiopian Jews, Soviet Jews, Middle Eastern and North African Jews, and now, Ukrainian Jews have found an unconditional haven in a sovereign Jewish state that is committed to defending them. They all know that Jewish powerlessness is a luxury that liberal American Jews may aspire to, but most Israeli Jews can ill afford.

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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