The Reasons for the Departure of the Jews from Morocco 1956–1957: The Historiographical Problems
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The Reasons for the Departure of the Jews from Morocco 1956–1957: The Historiographical Problems

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Yigal Bin-Nun, “The Reasons of Departure of the Jews from Morocco 1956-1967: The Historiographical Problems”, in Françoise S. Ouzan & Manfred Gerstenfeld, Postwar Jewish Displacement and Rebirth 1945-1967, Brill, Leiden Boston 2014
The history of the Jewish community in independent Morocco is one limited in time. The almost total evacuation of this ethnic-religious minority is an opportunity for a historian to trace its itinerary in a country that was transformed from a French protectorate into a new independent state maintaining close ties with the former colonial power as well as with the Arab Muslim world and developing third world countries. Aware of the issue, the historian can evaluate more easily the failure of its integration into Moroccan society and the reasons that led to its departure ten years after the end of the colonial era. He can also observe with lucidity how attractive the young Israeli state, though coping with difficulties to survive or exist, was to the eyes of a minority torn between its long local history in Morocco, its French culture, and its Jewish identity.
The ideology that fuelled the activity of the Israelis in Morocco actually relies on a basic axiom claiming that in the Diaspora any Jew, as such, is in constant danger due to eternal and universal antisemitism. The State of Israel only has the right to exist if it assumes its responsibility to extend protection to any Jew in the Diaspora. Eliezer Shoshani, the historian of this emigration, has found a justification for the intervention of the Israeli emissaries in the Jewish community of Morocco by referring to the responsibility incumbent upon Israel to watch over the destiny of all the Jews in the world, “whether the Jew is actually asking for it or he does not explicitly demand it.” He believes that no one could contest the right of Israel to intervene and to interfere in the Jewish Diaspora. Israelis had no difficulty in interpreting the meaning of this responsibility. Therefore, the act of delegating Israeli agents to Morocco is irreproachable. In his view, there is no difference between the operations of the Mossad in Morocco and the dispatching of Israeli paratroopers to Nazi Europe in the midst of World War II. The evacuation of the Jews from Morocco is a significant victory for Israel in the accomplishment of Zionistic ideology.

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Published 07 August 2014
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The Reasons for the Departure of the Jews from
Morocco !"#$–!"$%: The Historiographical
Problems
Yigal Bin-Nun
The history of the Jewish community in independent Morocco is one limited in
time. The almost total evacuation of this ethnic-religious minority is an oppor-
tunity for a historian to trace its itinerary in a country that was transformed
from a French protectorate into a new independent state maintaining close
ties with the former colonial power as well as with the Arab Muslim world and
developing third world countries. Aware of the issue, the historian can evalu-
ate more easily the failure of its integration into Moroccan society and the rea-
sons that led to its departure ten years after the end of the colonial era. He can
also observe with lucidity how attractive the young Israeli state, though coping
with di!"#culties to survive or exist, was to the eyes of a minority torn between
its long local history in Morocco, its French culture, and its Jewish identity.
The pattern followed by historians when writing about the modern history
of the Jews in eastern and western Europe might be incompatible when we
attempt to adapt it arti"#cially to the Moroccan conjuncture. Certain concepts,
such as emancipation, assimilation, antisemitism, haskalah (Enlightenment),
and Zionism, are applicable to Jewish communities in which a dichotomist dis-
tinction took place between, on the one hand, assimilation into the country of
origin and, on the other hand, the alternative of a speci"#c Jewish nationalism.
The second option advocates the realization of an active Zionism with vari-
ous successive stages: ‘escape’ ($%ight from the hell of concentration camps),
ha‘apalah (‘illegal’ immigration to Palestine during the British Mandate
period), aliyah (immigration), halutsiyut (realization of a pioneering lifestyle
on the kibbutz or in a moshav), haganah (Jewish self-defense), etc.&''
()) Yaron Tsur, “The Ha’apala and the Edi"#cation of a National Society: the In$%uence of
Clandestine Immigration from Morocco on the Relationships between Israel and the
Moroccan Jews,” HaTsiyonut *+ (*,,-): *./–+. (Hebrew). See also id., A Torn Community:
The Jews of Morocco and Nationalism !"#$–!"%# (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 0--*) (Hebrew);
Yaron Tsur and Hagar Hillel, Jews in Casablanca: Studies on the Modernization of the Jewish
Leadership in a Colonial Diaspora, North African Jewry in the *,th and 0-th Centuries, *–0
(Tel Aviv: Open University, *,,/) (Hebrew); Yaron Tsur, “Jewish Historiography and the
© !"#$#!%$&! ()$%% #*, %'$+'# , ,-./ |  "$ .-...12/345366/,44443_-./
196-211_Ouzan-Gerstendfeld_F14.indd 196 4/4/2014 4:50:50 PM
'123 45678958:9;<25=;> ?98@>3A6 197
This structure might entail confusion, given that instead of the conven-
tional dichotomy between assimilation and particularism we are confronted
with a di!ferent structure, consisting of three poles applying attraction on the
various social layers of the community in question. That is actually the case
of the Jewish community of twentieth-century Morocco, exposed to three
distinct poles of attraction: speci"#c Jewish identity, French civilization, and
Moroccan reality. The decisive choice between these three has somehow
changed over time. Resigned support of the French occupier was succeeded
by a short period of identi"#cation with the newly independent state and the
hope of integrating into its society. But uncertainties and anxiety about the
future of the new regime incited the Jewish population to opt for solutions
implying leaving Morocco. Thus was accomplished the evacuation of the local
Jewish community. Under the pretext that some imminent danger was threat-
ening this community and that it was their duty to save those people at any
cost, the Israeli emissaries and the international Jewish organizations became
involved with the destiny of Moroccan Judaism by evoking hypotheses which
later proved to be wrong.
Alexander Easterman, of the World Jewish Congress (BCD), was aware of the
di!ference in nature between the Jewish community of Morocco and European
Judaism. According to him, throughout the history of the Jewish diaspora in
eastern Europe the Jews appear as being persecuted and compelled to wander
from one place to another, striving to "#nd a refuge that would allow them to
live as they please, and looking for ways to provide for their family. In Morocco,
on the contrary, the situation was the opposite: the Moroccans did all they
could to hold the Jews back in their country by persuasive, political, and
Ethnic Problem,” in Making Israel, ed. Benny Morris (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
Press, (0--+), 0E*–++; id., “Modern Identities of Jews in Muslim Lands: The Arab-Jewish
Option,” Pe‘amim *0//*0+ (0-**): ./–/F (Hebrew). In these publications Tsur tried to "#t
Moroccan Jewry into a conventional historical structure and used a terminology having a
communal connection with Judaism in both eastern and western Europe. Even for Meir
Knafo, one of the "#rst volunteers in Misgeret, it was essential that his activities be per-
ceived as a characteristic chapter of the history of Zionism: “The history of Misgeret, and
its place in the contemporary history of Zionism where it should occupy an essential
place. . . .” To him, this a!"#liation is more outstanding than the identi"#cation of Misgeret
with the history of Israel or with that of the Jewish community of Morocco. See the
testimony of Meir Knafo, Organization of Persons Active in Ha‘apalah from North Africa
(Irgun Peilei Haha‘apalah miTsfon Africa; hereafter H?41I), ed. Meir Knafo, IV, July *,,.,
Tel Aviv.
196-211_Ouzan-Gerstendfeld_F14.indd 197 4/4/2014 4:50:50 PM198 J5K-LMK
economic means.NOO Contrary to this point of view, Foreign A!fairs Minister
Golda Meir only saw in the sinking of the ship Egoz one more link in the chain
of the exploits of the ha‘apalah, part of the long history of the Jews’ struggle
against antisemitism.NOP Moshe Sharett also saw in this tragedy one more page
in the history of Jewish martyrdom: “I think that in the whole chapter of the
martyrdom of our immigration until today, there has not been one episode like
the one of the present Jewish emigration from Morocco.”NOQ
The ideology that fuelled the activity of the Israelis in Morocco actually
relies on a basic axiom claiming that in the Diaspora any Jew, as such, is in
constant danger due to eternal and universal antisemitism. The State of Israel
only has the right to exist if it assumes its responsibility to extend protection
to any Jew in the Diaspora. Eliezer Shoshani, the historian of this emigration,
has found a justi"#cation for the intervention of the Israeli emissaries in the
Jewish community of Morocco by referring to the responsibility incumbent
upon Israel to watch over the destiny of all the Jews in the world, “whether the
Jew is actually asking for it or he does not explicitly demand it.” He believes
that no one could contest the right of Israel to intervene and to interfere in
the Jewish Diaspora. Israelis had no di!"#culty in interpreting the meaning of
RSS Alexander Easterman’s speech at the .th general ssembly of the political department of
the BCD in Stockholm, August *,/,. See Yigal Bin-Nun, “La négociation de l’évacuation en
masse des Juifs du Maroc,” in La &' n du Judaïsme en terres d’Islam, ed. Shmuel Trigano (Paris:
Denoël Médiations, 0--,), E-E–/T; id., “The Contribution of World Jewish Organizations
to the Establishment of Rights for Jews in Morocco (*,/F–*,F*),” Journal of Modern Jewish
Studies ,, 0 (0-*-): 0/*–+.; Michael Laskier, “Jewish Emigration from Morocco to Issrael:
Government Policies and the Position of International Jewish Organizations, *,.,–/F,”
Middle Eastern Studies 0/ (*,T,): E/+–/T.
RSU “The Sinking of the Immigrants’ Ship o!f the Coast of Morocco,” Declaration by Minister
of Foreign A!fairs Golda Meir, *T Jan. *,F*, in Divrei haKnesset (Knesset Debates) E-, +/.
(Hebrew); Yigal Bin-Nun, “Israeli Media Assault on Morocco after the Sinking of the
Immigrant Ship ‘Egoz’, January *,F*,” Kesher: Journal for the History the Press in the Jewish
World and Israel ET (Spring 0--,): //–F/ (Hebrew); Asher Kesher, “Tough Nut to Crack,”
Yediot tiqshoret, Ashdod, 0 Aug. 0-*E: /..–.T (Hebrew); Shmuel Segev, Operation Yakhin:
The Secret Immigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel, 0d ed. (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense
Pub. House, *,T/), *T/ (Hebrew); see also id., The Moroccan Connection: The Secret Ties
between Israel and Morocco (Tel Aviv: Matar, 0--T), T+–,+ (Hebrew).
RSV Moshe Sharett’s speech at the meeting of the Mossad le-teum (Liaison committee between
the government and the Jewish Agency), no date, in Eliezer Shoshani, Testimonials from
Friends, roneotyped document, ‘top secret’, copy no. +F, [April *,F.] (Hebrew); Yigal Bin-
Nun, “The Relationship between the Emissaries of the Israeli Mossad and the Jewish
Community of Morocco,” REEH: Revue Européenne d’Etudes Hébraïques , (0--.): /+–+-
(Hebrew).
196-211_Ouzan-Gerstendfeld_F14.indd 198 4/4/2014 4:50:51 PM123 45678958:9;<25=;> ?98@>3A6 199
this responsibility. Therefore, the act of delegating Israeli agents to Morocco
is irreproachable. In his view, there is no di!ference between the operations of
the MossadNO& in Morocco and the dispatching of Israeli paratroopers to Nazi
Europe in the midst of World War II. The evacuation of the Jews from Morocco
is a signi"#cant victory for Israel in the accomplishment of Zionistic ideology.
If we were to attribute to the State of Israel any accusation for actions
taken or not taken, the inculpation for having intervened in favor of the
Jews of those diasporas, before it was too late, would gladly be accepted.
In addition, there would be in such an act on its part one more point to
justify its existence in the eyes of the nations.NON
Meanwhile, Shoshani was forced to admit that despite the fact that the creation
of the State of Israel was the direct consequence of the hypothesis according to
which any Jew around the world was in danger, “It appeared that the obvious
danger connected to their physical existence [of the Jews in Morocco] was not
such an emergency. . . . But there is no hope or future for the Moroccan Jewish
Diaspora, and as long as it goes on existing . . . the sword of Damocles is hover-
ing above its head.”NOW According to him, “the years gone by since the inde-
pendence of Morocco until today [*,FE], have not justi"#ed the catastrophic
hypotheses about the condition of the Jewish Diaspora in Morocco. Instead
of the acts of violence that were anticipated as inevitable, a state of tolerance
established itself and the Jews were allowed to leave the country almost freely.”
Because of such tolerance, Shoshani deplored this state of a!fairs in the fol-
lowing terms: “This situation does not enable to foster among the volunteers
[of the Israeli clandestine network] and even among their leaders, a state of
tension in the activities of the clandestine organization of defense.” One could
RS( The Mossad (Organization for Information and Special Operations) was founded in
*,/*. It deals mainly with information as well as secret activities beyond Israel’s borders,
whereas the Shin-Bet or ‘Shabak’ (General Security Services) ensures internal security.
The chief of the Mossad is directly responsible to the prime minister. In its early days
the Mossad was also active in organizing self-defense and emigration of the Jewish com-
munities in Arab countries. Isser Harel, as head of security services, was in charge of the
Mossad as well as of the Shin-Bet commanded by Israel (Isy) Dorot. See Inès Bel Aiba,
Younès Alami, Ali Amar, and Aboubakr Jamaï, “Le Maroc et le Mossad,” Dossier spécial et
éditorial, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, Casablanca, no. *F+ (E–, July 0--.): E–., 0-–0,.
RSR Eliezer Shoshani, Nine Years out of a Thousand, roneotyped document, top secret, copy
no. +F, [April *,F.], E+ (Hebrew).
RSX Ibid., 0..
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sense among the members of MisgeretNOY “an atmosphere of weariness, dis-
couragement, as well as a loss of interest and calling for the matter. . . . If the
years pass without any aggressive act committed by the [Muslim] majority
and without any acts of violence being provoked, it results in an imbalance
in the moral sanity of the leaders. . . .” According to the ideology of Misgeret,
the Moroccan authorities had successfully outmaneuvered the intentions of
the Israeli network’s leaders, thanks to their favorable behavior towards the
country’s Jews.NOZ The chief of Misgeret headquarters in Paris, Ephraim Ronel,
was convinced that the sinking of the Egoz and the arrests caused by the distri-
bution of an Israeli $%ier were not justi"#able, despite the fact that he had given
his consent to those actions: “[These two events] encourage us to ask ourselves
the following question: Are we really allowed to put in danger the lives of Jews,
men, women, and children, while there is no risk of an immediate pogrom in
sight and that their lives are not in danger?”NO[
These examples pertinently concretize the discrepancy between the ideo-
logical precepts that motivated the Israeli emissaries and the social reality
which was revealed to them in Morocco. This gap between intentions and real-
ity led the Israeli emissaries to promote inappropriate activities that more than
once caused damage to the families that they had come to rescue. Needless
to say, those emissaries sincerely believed in the concepts that were guiding
their actions. Nevertheless, their ideological conviction was so strong that it
altered their perception of reality. Many years later, with hindsight, some of
them had to admit that on the face of it their positions were incompatible with
what had been revealed to their eyes. A relative shift had occurred in them
between their former ideas and their appreciation of events thirty or forty
years later. Confronted with this change when they were giving their accounts,
they claimed almost unanimously: “You have to understand the climate of the
time.” In other words, their ideas and actions were in some way just a re$%ec-
tion of the consensual ideology in Israel in those days, so much so that they
were incapable of subscribing to the reality that was unfolding before their
eyes. Let us note, by the way, that the question of historical judgment of the
past is a topic largely debated by various historiographical schools. However,
despite outrageous objectivist positions, it is obvious that a historian can only
RS\ Misgeret is the name of the network established in Morocco by the Mossad, "#rst to super-
vise Jewish self-defense and then the clandestine emigration.
RS] Shoshani, Nine Years, E,.
RS^ Testimony of E.R. [Ephraim Ronel], in Shoshani, Testimonials. See also Ephraim Ronel
(Rosen), “The Misgeret from Operation Egoz until Operation Yakhin *,F-–*,F.,” ()*+,
III, ./.
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interpret events according to his own opinion and depending on the time
when they are written. Indeed, he can by no means pass judgment contrary to
his conscience or his convictions.
The secret, underground, conditions that were essential to the e!forts of the
Israeli emissaries in Morocco inevitably gave birth to some myths, indepen-
dent of reality or facts—so little disclosed until this very day. Many years later,
the evacuation of the Moroccan Jews, despite the ‘defense secret’, aroused
squabbling between the Israeli emissaries and the employees of the Jewish
Agency, as well as within each group, to determine who would bear the “honor
of having saved Moroccan Judaism.”NO' These di!ferences of opinion emanate
mainly from the agents’ gap of information about the operations initiated by
their predecessors or their successors. Consequently, they are lacking a global
view of the situation and do not have enough distance enabling them to judge
correctly the part of each of the protagonists in these operations. Furthermore,
needless to say, certain emissaries who deplore the minimization of the part
they played in the rescue of the Moroccan Jews are not necessarily the ones
who had a capital share in these operations. In addition, one could note the
harsh words of Naftali Bar Giora in one assembly of the Clandestine Volunteers
Organization and of the North African ha‘apalah:
As soon as the rescue operation was over, already a long time ago, out
of nowhere are coming some people who claim to have played the most
essential part in this activity. From time to time some publications
mention names of volunteers who boast about actions they have never
accomplished and on the other hand, those who actually did them are
not known to the public.NPO
More than anything, the ideological framework of the rescue operation was
the source for all kinds of myths, such as the cruelty of the Moroccans, the tor-
ture in$%icted upon emigrating families, antisemitic acts of violence against the
Jews of Morocco, and the legendary exploits of some emissaries.
The "#rst head of Misgeret in Morocco, Shlomo Yehezqeli, who bequeathed
us a most lucid testimony, addresses this topic in his memoirs, written shortly
before his death in *,,E. He knew what had been said about the role of each
emissary in the vicissitudes of a period of time that he had followed closely in
Morocco and in Paris, from August *,// until the end of the Operation Yakhin:
RS) Eyal Ehrlich, “Who Saved the Jews from Moro:. The Lost Honor of Secret Agents,” Ha‘aretz
Weekly Supplement, 0, May *,T+ (Hebrew).
RUS Naftali Bar Giora’s testimony, ()*+, III, quoted in Bin-Nun, “The Relationship,” F/.
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