The Disputes regarding the Jewish Emigration from Morocco 1956–1961
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The Disputes regarding the Jewish Emigration from Morocco 1956–1961


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There are many answers to the critical question as to why the Jews of Morocco left. Some of the reasons were substantive and were based on mat- ters of fundamental importance. Others were circumstantial, resulting form the specific time at which the Jews left, during the early 1960s. The Jewish community, the international Jewish organizations and the State of Israel were all concerned because, despite all the calming declarations put out by the Moroccan authorities, it was impossible to deny the basic fact that the independent Moroccan state was defined by its constitution as an Islamic state. But the problem was not connected to legal definitions alone. Post- colonial Moroccan society was characterized by a lifestyle in which religion played an important role and all of its culture was based on the Muslim experience. This socio-cultural situation did not leave any room for those who were not Muslims or for those who were secular in the style of many West European societies since the French Revolution.



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The Disputes regarding the Jewish Emigration
from Morocco 1956–1961
The subject of Jewish emigration from Morocco or, as it has been coined by
both parties, the right to freedom of movement troubled the leaders of the
Jewish community regarding difficulties the authorities were creating for
Jews seeking to obtain passports. This issue was no less troubling for the
leaders of the World Jewish Congress, the government of the State of Israel,
the Jewish Agency, and the agents of the Misgeret who worked secretly on
1behalf of the Mossad in Morocco. Liberal circles within the Moroccan lead-
ership rejected the idea of Jewish emigration, because, with the advent of
Moroccan independence, they wished to create the appearance of a pro-
gressive country in which all its citizens, regardless of religion, enjoyed
equal rights so that none would have any desire to leave. Liberals also op-
posed emigration because of the concern that if Jews left the country, the
2economy would suffer. Pan-Arabists in the conservative wing of the Istiqlal,
for their part, were unhappy that wealthy Jews from Morocco would emi-
grate to Israel, thus strengthening the Zionist forces there against Arab
The history of the Jewish community during the early years of Moroccan
independence is one of continuous worry regarding an unclear future and
the possibility of impending disaster. During that period, the Jewish com-
munity was forced to address several critical questions that would ultimate-
ly determine the future of Moroccan Jewry, as well as the future of individ-
ual Jews in the community. While the struggle for independence had been
waged without much involvement on the part of the Jewish community,
the withdrawal from colonialism presented each Moroccan Jew with fateful
options: whether to seek personal and communal success within a demo-
cratic progressive country or to escape from the country out of fear of pos-
sible disaster.
1 The Mossad had established a network in Morocco, which it called Misgeret (Frame-
work). The network dealt with the subject of Jewish self-defense and, later on, the
issue of illegal emigration.
2 The Istiqlal Party—the word means “independence”—was established after the publi-
cation of the proclamation of independence in Fès. Its 58 signatories made up a group
of young people who had already in 1934 formed a group called Action du Peuple,
which demanded reforms from the colonial administration. Allal Al Fassi and Ahmed
Balafrej headed the party.
Muslim-Bin-Nun Page 52 Monday, July 8, 2013 12:43 PM
The Moroccan monarchy also had to choose between continuing its con-
nection to France, the democratic West and its culture and language, or
aligning Morocco with the countries of the Middle East, which had pan-Ara-
bist policies and negative relations with their own Jews. At the time, the
future of the country’s government and the fate of the Jews’ legal status in
Morocco were not at all clear. The Jewish community as a whole had a deci-
sion to make. It could, on the one hand, demand the rights of an ethnic
minority and receive the isolation that went along with such a status. This
would mean experiencing life as a state within a state, while preserving their
separate ethnic identity. Alternatively, it could permit itself to be absorbed
by the new society, its culture and its language, to the point of total assimi-
lation, as was the case of the Jewish communities of Western Europe. The
first option was not very popular, because its potential backers simply pre-
ferred to go to Israel. The second option was preferable for only a relatively
short period of time among the educated Jewish class. This group was soon
forced to deal with an unpleasant truth, as it quickly became clear that what
was true for the Jews of France after the French Revolution and, subse-
quently, for all of Western Europe’s Jews, did not apply in the reality of a
new Arab-Muslim state in the twentieth century, even one that had just
emerged from a period of French colonial control that had lasted for little
over forty years. Most of Moroccan Jewry chose a path that was midway
between a search for complete community autonomy and an attempt at cul-
tural assimilation. This “golden mean” was most strongly supported by the
community’s official leader of that period, David Amar.
Despite many public declarations that they were being fully integrated
into Moroccan politics, society, and, to a certain degree, its culture (which
was itself in the middle of being formulated) most of the community’s lead-
ers chose to preserve the clearly ethnic public institutions that went beyond
any religious function and were more connected to the social, educational,
and cultural spheres. These were the kind of that give a commu-
nity an ethnic identity different from that of the general population. The
Jews of Morocco thus had a triple set of loyalties, their first being formal loy-
alty to the Moroccan homeland, the country in which their fathers had lived
even before the advent of Islam, along with faithfulness to its language, soci-
ety, and royal house. At the same time, the Jews preserved their Jewish
identity, not just in religious terms, but with regard to ethnicity and culture
as well, and this brought along with it a hidden emotional connection to the
State of Israel and a certain pride in its successes. Along with these two
national and ethnic loyalties, the Jews of Morocco continued to develop
their connection to French cultural, educational, and linguistic values, all of
which were a guarantee of social advancement.
Three principles guided the leadership of the State of Israel in their rela-
tions with the Jewish community in Morocco, and they determined the
basic guidelines of the Zionist understanding of the situation: first, anti-
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Semitism is timeless and universal; second, the ingathering of all Diaspora
Jewry in Israel must eventually be accomplished in order to defeat this eter-
nal anti-Semitism; and third, Israel must take the responsibility for having
the Jews brought to Israel preemptively in order to overcome the demo-
graphic fear stemming from the regional situation and to strengthen the
Jewish base within it. After the Holocaust in Europe, the Jews of North Afri-
ca and especially the community in Morocco became the most important
Jewish bloc in the world for American Jewry, which wished to mark the tra-
dition of maintaining Jewish existence in the face of the danger of assimila-
tion. They were also an important group for the Jews in Israel, who were
interested in this area as a source of emigration and as a potential supplier of
human resources for the strengthening in Israel of the economy, and for its
industry, agriculture, and defense.
The Jewish Population of Morocco and Emigration after 1948
In the two years following Israel’s declaration of independence a total of
22,900 Jews left Morocco for Israel. Between 1948 to the independence of
Morocco, 108,243 Jews emigrated to the young state at an average rate of
3,000 Jews per month. During all the years in which the Jewish Agency’s
3Qadima organization functioned in Morocco, approximately 110,000 Jews
left the country and about another 120,000 had left by 1961. Altogether,
almost 237,813 Jews came to Israel from Morocco in the years 1948 to
A census held in November of 1957 showed that the Moroccan Jewish
community as a whole numbered 164,216, which made up 1.8% of the gen-
eral population, and that seventy-five percent of it lived in twelve cities or
villages. The remaining Jews (a group that numbered at varying times
approximately 80,000 people in total) lived in smaller groupings in over 150
communities. In 1956, most of the Moroccan Jewish community lived in cit-
ies, with only 40,000 Jews living in 145 small villages. Families were large,
and the population was relatively young—the average Jewish family had six
family members and children under the age of 16 made up 50.7% of the Jew-
ish population. Only 10.6% of the community was elderly. The Jews lived
mainly in the cities of Casablanca, Fès, Marrakech, Meknès, Rabat, Tanger,
Sefrou, Qenitra, Oujda, Tétouan, Midelt, and Erfoud.
The situation three years later was not much different, although the size
of the Jewish community had already begun to shrink. In July of 1960, the
official Moroccan Ministry of the Interior’s first census was completed, and
the Jewish population was given at 160,032, making up only 1.4% of the
general population. 71,175 Jews lived in Casablanca alone, where the gen-
3 Qadima (1949–1956) was the Jewish Agency’s organization in Morocco. It was also the
name of the transit camp run by the Jewish Agency near Al Jadida, which housed Jews
emigrating to Israel.
Muslim-Bin-Nun Page 54 Monday, July 8, 2013 12:43 PM
eral population numbered 965,000. Half of the Jews were under the age of
20 and most of the Jewish population was urban. The Jews made up only 2%
of the population, but constituted 8% of the country’s industrial workers
and artisans, 10% percent of all merchants, and 5% of the members of the
free professions and of those employed in managerial positions. Thirty per-
cent of the general Moroccan population worked in modern industries,
while 99% of Jews were employed in such fields. By June 30, 1963, 60,017
Jews had come to Israel from Morocco, which is why it is assumed that
110,000 Jews remained in Morocco as of that date.
Between 1957 and November of 1961, when the government began to
permit Jews to leave under collective passports, 29,472 Jews left legally or
through various paths of illegal emigration organized by the Israeli security
services. If those leaving in 1957 are discounted—a year in which most Jews
left the country with legal passports—it appears that the number who left in
the context of Misgeret, the Israeli Secret Service’s illegal immigration pro-
gram, came to a little less than 10,200 Jews. From November of 1961
through the end of 1963, more than 72,500 Jews left Morocco legally. By
1964, when the Yakhin campaign ended, a total of 83,707 Jews had left. In
1965, 55,000 Jews remained in Morocco, but by 1972 no more than 30,000
were living there. By 2003 the community numbered under 5000. Because
of the limitations created by Israel’s policy adopted in 1953 of allowing only
“selected” Moroccan Jews to immigrate, there was a negative balance in
terms of immigration to Israel during the year of the policy’s adoption: the
number of Jews who returned from Israel to Morocco was greater than the
number who emigrated to Israel.
The disputes regarding emigration caused divisions not only between
the Moroccan government and the Israeli emissaries and the World Jewish
Congress, but they arose also between World Jewish Congress on the one
side and the leadership of the Mossad and the Israeli government on the oth-
er. Although the WJC acknowledged that Zionism and the State of Israel
were the life-blood of the Jewish people, they nevertheless argued that the
Jews who still lived in the Diaspora should not be forgotten and that their
welfare should continue to be a cause of concern. The WJC leaders saw
their primary goal as being the preservation of the spiritual lives of the
Diaspora Jews, since, no matter what, Israel would not be able to absorb all
of Jewry. The WJC leadership, therefore, decided to establish cul-
tural and other activities within North African Jewish communities. They
set for themselves the goal of “increasing the presence” by exerting
pressure on the community’s leadership and by responding to every attack
on the community’s special rights that might emanate from government
sources. To strengthen its position, the WJC maintained continuous contact
with governmental authorities, even providing them with certain services.
Even if the WJC representatives were not always optimistic regarding the
outcomes of their activities, they continued to meet with government min-
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isters and senior officials frequently, so as to maintain an unbroken connec-
tion with the authorities. They complained that Israel did not help them
with their work, even though they saw themselves as Israel’s unofficial
4ambassadors in places where the state did not have diplomatic contacts.
This was the reason for their harsh criticism of Misgeret’s underground
work involving clandestine emigration. They claimed that not only was such
activity insufficient to solve the problem of restrictions on emigration, it
would also damage the WJC’s diplomatic efforts and their chances for reach-
ing an agreed arrangement with the government leadership.
From the perspective of the Jewish Agency’s representatives, the activi-
ties of the WJC leaders had both positive and negative aspects. The WJC
leadership saw itself as working to achieve peace and quiet for the North
African Jews by ensuring relief from occasionally renewed anti-Jewish regu-
lations. The World Zionist Organization and the government of Israel had a
different perspective. They rejected the very possibility of peaceful life in
the Diaspora and saw a need for radical action in order to change the situa-
tion. According to Baruch Duvdevani, who ran the Immigration Department
of the Jewish Agency in Europe:
Our perspective was a Zionist one. We did not avoid difficult and dangerous
decisions, because we were persuaded that there was no future for Jews in
Morocco and that their only hope was in emigration to Israel. And we felt
the pressure of time very clearly. The WJC felt differently—they worked to
achieve temporary solutions and an easing of the situation on the spot […]
Nevertheless, it should be said to their credit, that their friendly connections
with many government officials was what prevented bloodshed on the
Jewish street during the times when control of the government was trans-
ferred from one group to another. These connections also contributed to the
5easing of the situation in the transit camp next to Casablanca.
Isser Harel, the director of the Mossad at the time, also understood that
the Jewish side was divided schematically into two separate camps. In one
camp were those who supported mass emigration, which was to be mini-
mally funded, and in the other were those who supported the path of quiet
diplomacy, of lobbying and adopting a patient approach with respect to the
Moroccan authorities. This second camp minimized the importance of
Harel’s organization’s work in getting Jews out of Morocco. According to
him, the first camp included Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, Foreign Minister
Golda Meir, and S. Z. Shragay, while the leader of the other camp was Nahum
4 Levinsky, addressing Mossad activists in Paris, November 7, 1958 (Israel National
Archives, Foreign Ministry, 4317/10/1).
5 Testimony of varuch Duvdevani, The Organization of Underground Activists in
North Africa, vol. 4 (Tel Aviv, 1994). The reference is to the Qadima transit camp for
Muslim-Bin-Nun Page 56 Monday, July 8, 2013 12:43 PM
6Goldmann, the President of the World Jewish Congress. In reality, the divi-
sion was more complicated and many other elements were also involved, ele-
ments that related not only to emigration and Israel’s ability to absorb immi-
grants, but also to the estimated degree of danger that the Jews could expect
in Morocco and the two sides’ respective views regarding the proper way to
persuade the Moroccan authorities to allow the Jews to leave.
On the Moroccan side, the leadership’s various arguments against Jewish
emigration reflect the differences in political culture that existed among the
factions making up that leadership. Thus, there were several different rea-
sons for their opposition:
•The paternalistic-traditional approach, which characterized the king’s
attitude, saw the Jews of the community as having been placed
under the personal protection of the ruler. The monarchy saw itself
as being obligated to “protect its Jewish sons” as it had done for gen-
erations. This approach involved a certain degree of sentimentality,
which was devoid of any realpolitik.
• Another argument against emigration flowed from the view that the
Jews’ exit from the country immediately upon its attaining indepen-
dence from France would destabilize the country in terms of its pub-
lic administration, commerce, and economy. This argument was based
on the realization that the Moroccan Jews as a group played an im-
portant economic and administrative role in the country. Another
version of this argument was one that emphasized that such a mass
exodus of Jews would certainly be covered in the international
media and would create the impression that the young state was col-
lapsing economically. Furthermore, those putting forth this argu-
ment feared that such coverage would portray Morocco as a country
7governed by intolerant rulers.
• Others argued that allowing the Jews to leave en masse would
expose Morocco to world public opinion as an undemocratic, non-
progressive country whose government was unable to provide its
non-Muslim citizens with the conditions necessary for proper inte-
gration into Moroccan society.
• An additional reason given for opposing Jewish emigration was that
most of the Jews would emigrate to Israel, and their departure from
Morocco would, therefore, impact on Morocco’s relations with the
other Arab countries, which it needed for the sake of stabilizing its
6 Testimony of I. Harel, The Organization of Underground Activists in North Africa,
vol. 4 (Tel Aviv, 1994).
7 Report submitted by Hayim Yahil, Deputy Director-General, Israel Foreign Ministry,
regarding his conversation with Marcel Stein, who had returned from talks in
Morocco, November 8, 1957 (Israel National Archives, Foreign Ministry II 4317/10).
Muslim-Bin-Nun Page 57 Monday, July 8, 2013 12:43 PM
political condition as its struggle against colonial France came to an
• Finally, the argument was made that the massive emigration of
young Jews to Israel would strengthen the Israeli Defense Forces in
its war with Morocco’s fellow Arab countries.
Whatever the reasoning, Morocco was united from one corner of the
political spectrum to the other in its opposition to the idea of allowing the
Jews to leave the country. Israel’s representatives and the heads of the inter-
national Jewish organizations tried to answer these claims with opposing
arguments. They pointed out that the financial factor was not that important
since approximately 60,000 Jews (out of 160,000 in 1960) were being sus-
8tained by aid from the American Joint Distribution Committee. In their con-
versations with the authorities, the Israeli representatives also pointed out
that the emigration of Jewish professionals from the country would create
many job opportunities for educated Muslims. As for concerns regarding the
response of Middle Eastern Arab countries, the Israeli emissaries responded
that even Arab League countries—even those that were in a state of war with
Israel—were permitting their Jews to leave for Israel, and that these young
immigrants were also serving in the Israel Defense Forces. They were, in
fact, referring to the experience of the Jews of Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Libya,
Tunisia, and even Syria and Lebanon. According to Alexander Easterman,
while Nasser was actually encouraging Jews to leave Egypt and even
expelled them after the Sinai Campaign in 1957 as part of his struggle for
national unity, Morocco was discouraging Jews from leaving as part of a pol-
9icy of encouraging the maintenance of national ethnic variety. The Israelis
also pointed to Tunis’ liberal policy as a positive example, a policy that had
been shaped by Habib Bourguiba. Despite his having allowed the Jews of his
10country to leave freely, the Jews had not stormed the exit gates.
In the eyes of the Moroccan leadership, the Jews’ economic situation
was similar to that of the French colonialists. Despite the difference
between the two groups in terms of actual statistics, the Jews constituted a
8 Victor Malka points to a census that was held in 1960 in which 160,000 Jews were
counted in the country, compared to 230,000 in 1950. V. Malka, “La situation des
communautés juives en Tunisie et au Maroc. L’exemple marocain,” L’Arche, no. 62,
March 1962.
9 A. Easterman, speaking at the Fourth General Assembly of the World Jewish Congress
Political Department at Stockholm, report for August 1959; M. Laskier, “The Emigra-
tion of the Jews of Morocco, the Government’s Policy and the Positions of the World
Jewish Organizations, 1949–56,” Shorashim ba mizrah, Research of the Zionist and
Pioneering Movement in the Sephardic and Islamic Communities, vol. 2, 354
10 M. Gazit, of the Israeli embassy in Washington, to Y. Maroz at the Israeli Foreign Minis-
try in Jerusalem, February 22, 1961 (Israel National Archives, Foreign Ministry, 941/8).
Muslim-Bin-Nun Page 58 Monday, July 8, 2013 12:43 PM
considerable consumers’ market and a source of skilled manpower for man-
agement positions. According to historian Daniel Rivet, “it would not be an
exaggeration to state that the exodus of this community would, from a
human perspective, impoverish Morocco more than would the return of all
11Europeans to the northern coast of the Mediterranean.” But the Jews,
from their were concerned about what might happen once the
country overcame the difficulties of adjusting to political and economic
independence. Ironically, however, for most Moroccan Jews, the calls by
Moroccan and world Jewish leadership for freedom of movement and for
the granting of passports were irrelevant. At most, the freedom to leave the
country with individual passports would have served the needs of only mer-
chants and businessmen who could leave for Europe because of their busi-
nesses or for vacations or visits. Positive responses to the demands for pass-
ports and freedom of movement would still not have solved the problems of
the many village-dwelling Jews or of the lower-class urban Jewish communi-
ties. These groups needed more than just the technicality of obtaining pass-
ports to leave; they required the assistance of an organization that could
arrange their departure, take care of shipping their goods, and deal with
their absorption into a new country. Nevertheless, on a practical level, it
was better for the Jewish organizations to mention just the two essential
demands, for freedom of movement and the issuance of passports. They
realized that it would be much harder to go further and ask that a foreign
country be expressly granted permission to organize—on Moroccan territo-
ry—a framework for the departure of Moroccan Jews en masse for Israel.
Indeed, with time, the Moroccan authorities were forced to give up their
goal of hermetically sealing the country’s borders against departing Jews.
They eventually adopted a policy of more or less ignoring the fact that Jews
were leaving, so long as the departures were discrete and not visible to the
opposition parties. Since political opposition to emigration had served for
so long as a political weapon in the hands of the various parties in their
attacks against each other and in their opposition to royal policies,
neither side dared to officially proclaim its agreement to allow the Jews to
leave. However, in private conversations, several politicians did not oppose
such emigration and did not do anything to block it. Gradually, the king was
forced to make peace with reality and to give up his wish to hold the Jews
against their will. It was difficult to put up an artificial obstacle to effectively
stem the growing desire on the part of the Jews to leave their homeland and
to seek their future in new geo-cultural horizons. This change in the king’s
attitude had more than one cause. Alongside the pressure of Jewish and
non-Jewish world public opinion was the gradual development of a more
pragmatic perspective among Morocco’s rulers.
11 D. Rivet, Le Maroc de Lyautey à Mohammed V, Le double visage du protectorat,
Denoël, 418.
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The World Jewish Congress
and the Moroccan Nationalist Movement
The relationship between the leadership of the Moroccan Nationalist Move-
ment and the representatives of the international Jewish organizations
began long before the country achieved independence. In June of 1952, the
leaders of the World Jewish Congress had already held their organization’s
first North-African conference, the intention of which was to prepare the
local Jewish leadership for the changes expected in light of the probability
that the countries of the region would soon be achieving independence.
The goal was to enable the North African communities to avoid the expe-
rience of their sister communities in Middle Eastern countries, where there
had been considerable anti-Jewish oppression and even violence. According
to the World Jewish Congress’ leaders, they were surprised to discover that
the region’s community leaders had an unreasonable sense of security and
could not imagine the political changes that would, sooner or later, change
12their way of life. At this time, in 1952, Nahum Goldmann invited a group
of young members of the Zionist youth movements in Morocco to a meeting
in order to convince them to support the nationalist movement in their
country. Meyer Toledano, Salomon Azoulay, and their colleagues travelled
to Geneva and heard Goldmann tell them of his forecast for the future in
Morocco after it achieved independence. The French authorities were con-
vinced that they would remain in North Africa for a long time. Goldmann
was able to persuade the group of young Moroccan Jews, however, and
upon their return to Morocco, they contacted activists within the nationalist
movement and collected funds for them from the Jewish merchants in Cas-
Also beginning in 1952, the leaders of the WJC made a series of visits to
Morocco and noticed that the situation there was more serious than that in
Tunisia. Attacks carried out by the nationalist movement against the colonial
authorities caused considerable unease and fear among many groups within
the Jewish community, which, in turn, created pressure for increased emi-
gration. The WJC leaders reached the conclusion that the Moroccan Jewish
community had two options in order to prevent a disaster: to emigrate or to
negotiate with the nationalist movement.
During the summer months, the WJC Coordinating Committee met to
establish a policy regarding the community’s fate. The goal was to establish
the necessary conditions for a harmonious transfer from one historical peri-
od to another. At the time, it was not at all clear that the transfer would nec-
essarily take place without violence and bloodshed. Nevertheless, the
World Jewish Congress was the only organization that could envision a
12 G. Riegner, Ne jamais désespérer (Paris: Éditions du Cerf , 1998), 529–33.
13 Personal testimony in a conversation with th author, S. Azoulay, Paris, June 11, 2001.