Saturday, August 15, 2009

Only 12 % Moroccan Muslims feel 'close' to Jews


Despite Morocco's long symbiosis with the Jews, the average Moroccan identifies more closely with an Afghan Muslim than a Moroccan Jew. This is one of the findings in Paul Vermeren's new book, Le Maroc de Mohammed Vl: La transition inacheve. Editions la Decouverte) summarised in Information Juive (July/August 2009). Here is a potted translation:

Morocco is something of an exception in the Arab world. It's got the largest Jewish community - 2,500 ( which is not saying much when you consider it once had 260,000 - ed). It attracts 5,000 Israeli-Moroccan visitors every year. The Moroccans are the second biggest community in Israel - after the Russians. In spite of Morocco's passionate support for the Palestinian cause, Morocco has always kept channels open to Israel. The liaison office was closed in 2000 due to the intifada, but in 2003, Mohammed Vl received the Israeli foreign minister.

Morocco knows that it suffered a tremendous loss with the rapid exodus of this hardworking but mostly very poor population. Seventy percent went to Israel, with the remainder moving to France, Canada and the US. The country is proud of its Jewish sons 'done good' abroad, be it an Israeli minister or an artist like the stand-up comic Gad Elmaleh.

The problem for Morocco's Jews has been the constant conflation in Muslim minds of 'Jew' with 'Zionist' and 'Israeli'. This confusion caused a profound unease, and hastened the departure of young Jews. They were off as soon as they had their school-leaving certificate in their pockets. Much blame lies with antisemitic textbooks, but no-one dares turn the clock back.

Several groups have tried to reverse this state of affairs - a handful of Jewish anti-Zionist and Marxist intellectuals (A. Serfaty, E Amrane El Maleh, Sion Assidon, Simon Levy) stayed on in Morocco and have been especially active. Another group of Moroccan-born French interface between the palace, business interests abroad and western allies like France,the US and Israel.

Moroccan intellectuals such as Mohammed Kenbib, Mohammed Hatmi and Jamaa Baida, together with Hebrew language specialists in Arabic studies departments and journalists, try to keep the memory of a shared past alive. Tel Quel (November 2008) published a supplement called 'The Jew within us: at the heart of Moroccan identity'.

But a survey on religious attitudes in 2007 showed the limitations of such an approach: 63 percent of all Moroccans questioned felt closer to a Muslim Afghan than to a Moroccan Jew (12 percent). The exodus of the Jews from towns and villages has given way to an antisemitism largely fed by anti-Israeli feeling. If the younger generation only rediscovered the forgotten Jewish element of their national identity might the dam be shored up - assuming that the state is willing to incorporate it in its school textbooks and syllabi.

Source: Point of No Return

1 comment:

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