Moroccan Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Mohamed Mael-Ainin: Moroccan Jews: A Success Story of Coexistence, Tolerance and Prosperity
Board members of the Capital Jewish Forum
Jewish community in Melbourne
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for your kind invitation to speak at the Capital Jewish Forum in this beautiful multicultural city, Melbourne, and before such a distinguished audience from the Australians and particularly Jewish Community among which there are surely some from Moroccan origin.
Before proceeding further, I would like to express my appreciation to Manny Waks, for his efforts and for giving me this opportunity to talk about my country Morocco, from the perspective of one of its major components, namely the Moroccan Jewish community.
Before I share with you these reflections on a very successful story of coexistence and tolerance, between Muslims and Jews throughout the Moroccan history, permit me to start with an insightful saying by the American historian and diplomat David J. Hill who states that:
“The diplomat should know the history of the great powers and of their relations with each other…for the present is but the epitome and expression of the past.”
These words underline the importance of history in the fabric of the character of nations and peoples. This is exactly the message I would like to convey through this humble presentation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Throughout the history of the Kingdom of Morocco which spans over 12 centuries, the land of Morocco, inhabited by the Amazigh (berebers), hosted many people, coming for different reasons from East (Phoenicians, Jews and Arabs), South (Sub-Saharan Africans) and North (Romans and Vandals).
The Jewish population first appeared in Morocco more than two millennia ago, travelling there in association with Phoenician traders.
When the Jews began to disperse throughout the Roman Empire, many settled in the North Africa region including part of modern-day Morocco. These settlers engaged in agriculture, cattle-raising, and trade.
When the Arabs came to Morocco, they found Berbers in their different religious traditions, Jews and Jewish Berberian tribes. Later on in the 7th century, many of the Moroccan Jews formed part of Tariq Ibnou Ziad troops in his conquest of Spain. They could after while remain in Spain and participate to the Golden Age of Al Andalus.
The dependence of Morocco from the Caliphate of Baghdad ceased in 789, when, under Idriss I, the dynasty of the Idrissids was founded and proclaimed its independent rule over Morocco. Under Idriss I, the Jews were settled in different cities of the Kingdom.
During the Moorish Andalusian period (Moorish being the proper name of the Moroccans at that time), Rabbi Jos Krauskopf says in a very insightful chapter of his book titled “The Jews and the Moors in Spain”:
“Two races of men engaged our attention most, the Jews and the Moors. When first we met the Jews in the South-western corner of Europe, we found them a prosperous community, large in numbers, loved and appreciated by their heathen neighbours, contributing largely, by their high morality and intelligence, by their skill and industry to the nation’s prosperity”.
“The Arab-Moors tolerated both the Hebrew people and their faith. Moorish and Jewish skill and industry and intelligence united, and united they became – and they maintained that distinction for many centuries”.
The Jews were then driven from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1496. Their sudden inroad upon Morocco and the whole of North Africa was then repeated on a very much larger scale.
With their skill in commerce, arts, and handicrafts, and with their wealth, the Jews have contributed positively to the rise and development of Morocco since its beginning of the actual dynasty in 1666 till now.
About the social integration of the Moroccan Jews and their religious life in the 19th century, The Australian Historian Pennell, in his pioneering book “Morocco since 1800” states that:
“ When Drummond Hay visited the High Atlas, he found a village where twenty five out of the one hundred or so families were Jewish...these rural Jews spoke Berber to their neighbours and Judeo Arabic among themselves…Jews had their own rabbinic courts to deal with inheritance, personal status, contracts and financial affairs. They could practice their religion and in each town, the rabbis and the council organised community life, schools and welfare systems”.
"There were poor Jews mostly small scale artisans and shopkeepers. There was also a Jewish upper class often descended from families expelled from Spain in 1492. They spoke a dialect of medieval Spanish and even had Spanish names: Parientes, Pinto and Toledano. They were bankers and merchants. They were part of the trading community that stretched across the Mediterranean" .
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Coming to the modern time, in the 2nd World War, even though Morocco was under the French protectorate. During the Vichy regime, when French was occupied by the Germans, King Mohamed V expressed his unconditional support towards his Jewish citizens.
According to historical accounts, when a Nazi commander demanded to get a list of the Moroccan Jews, the King Mohamed V replied with the following phrase: “We have no Jews in Morocco! Only Moroccan citizens”.
This is only one example of many which underscore the spirit of civic solidarity of the Moroccan Monarchs and their people.
The Middle East conflict created a mass migration in the Jewish communities all over the world including from Morocco.
Let me quote some statistics that illustrate the ongoing changes. In 1948, approximately a community of 300,000 Jews lived in Morocco. 200 000 in 1955, 20 000 in 1975. Since 1967, most of this new wave of emigration went to Europe and North America, Australia as well as New Zealand.
Thousands of Moroccan Jews are still living in Morocco, mostly in Casablanca, Fes, Essaouira and other main Moroccan cities.
For these migrants, departure did not mean rupture with their land and culture. Late King Hassan II was used to say so justly “when a Jew leaves his country, Morocco looses a resident and wins an Ambassador”.
Noteworthy, late King Hassan II was very known by his bold positions towards the Arab-Israeli struggle, being himself a strong instigator and advocate of peaceful resolution and dialogue between the concerned parties.
When he died in 1999, Jil Sedan wrote: “Ten thousands of Israeli mourning the death of Morocco’s King Hassan II, a man they considered their King…The Moroccan Jewish community in Israel declared a seven-day period of mourning for the King”.
His Majesty the King, Mohamed VI, as Commander of the Faithful, including all believers of the three Monotheisms, supports the well-being of the Jewish community in Morocco as well as the peace process in the Middle East. His Majesty the King declared in a speech of 8 November 2010:
“AS Commander of the Faithful, I am particularly keen to follow the footsteps of my revealed ancestors, along the wise path they chartered, ensuring that the rights and freedoms of my loyal subjects – Muslims and Jews alike – are protected on an equal footing, and that all the expressions and distinctive features of their heritage are properly safeguarded”.
Under his reign, Jewish Moroccan citizens continue to play a notable role in Morocco. They are well represented in business, politics and culture. Jewish schools and synagogues receive government subsidies. The King has a Jewish senior adviser, Mr. André Azoulay as member of the Royal Cabinet.
These firm positions have never been dependent on transient circumstances. They reflect, indeed, a deep rooted recognition and belief in the true contribution of the Jewish community and heritage in the fabric of our modern and tolerant Moroccan society.
This attitude has been reflected in the new text of the constitution voted by the Moroccan people in July 2011and which represents the true spirit of the nation and its true values and commitments.
In the Preamble of the new Moroccan constitution the Hebraic Heritage has clearly been identified as one of the components of National identity among the others.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many international analysts and observers wonder why Morocco has not been dramatically affected by the contagious Arab Spring. The issue of the Jewish community of Morocco and how Moroccans, King, government, political parties and people, have treated the question of diversity is the key to the stability of Morocco.
The reforms in Morocco pass through a dynamic of social dialogue and political peaceful debate for the sake of finding the adequate solution on the basis of compromise as a peaceful means to achieve goals and objectives alike.
The story of the Jewish Moroccans is one single example of a genius of a people who have gone through various historic incidents, ups and downs, but remain unified and confident that their richness lies in their diversity, tolerance and solidarity.
To illustrate such strong sense of belonging to their Moroccan background, Serge Berdugo, Ambassador at large of the Kingdom of Morocco, and President of the Moroccan Jewish Community, says in his presentation “The Global Jewish Citizen” given in Johannesburg, August 2011:
“Moroccan Jewry has a very deep tradition of pilgrimage “Hiloula”. They share this tradition with the Moslem society. Thousands of pilgrims come each year for Hiloulloth and Lag Baomar to visit their holly places in all regions of Morocco: Ouezzane, Safi, Essaouira, Settat, Gourama but also Tetouan, Meknes and Rabat.
Florence Amzallag, The Vice President American Sephardi Federation, during the International Symposium on Moroccan Jewry “ 2,000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey” held in New York City on May 2011, under the High Patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, concluded her lecture by a very interesting note saying:
“Everywhere they live, Moroccan Jews carry with them a passion for their culture, spirit and Moroccan identity, one which remains steadfast, even in the face of changing situations in the world today."