Sunday, October 21, 2007

Winning party helped drive Moroccan Jews away

The victory of the nationalist Istiqlal party in Morocco in the recent elections has prompted Information juive magazine (October 2007) to look into the part that Istiqlal played in causing the exodus of the Jewish community in the 1960s.

The Jews were then faced with difficult choices. On the one hand they had not actively contributed to the struggle for Moroccan independence. On the other they were genuinely attached to the country. The Istiqlal party kept picking on the Jews, calling them dhimmis and not full citizens. They were banned from emigrating. It was virtually impossible to obtain a passport.

On 10 January 1961, the Pisces sank off Tangier without a single survivor. The ship was carrying 44 Moroccan Jewish illegal emigrants, 24 of them children. Every family was thinking only of how they might leave this land, which had become so inhospitable to them.

The leader of the Istiqlal party, who had by then become minister of Islamic affairs, authorised the conversion to Islam of young Jewish girls. Each day the party newspaper Al Alam would publish photographs of these 12 to 13 year-olds, under the headline, They freely converted to Islam.

According to Information Juive, it was the beginning of the end for the Jewish community - a historic calamity. If you subtract this period in which the Istiqlal played with fire, Morocco could have been one of the few Arab countries which could have maintained relations of friendship and mutual respect with its Jewish population.

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