Moroccan Jewish Vizier Leads by Example

The story of Moroccan Jewry is much akin to that of Jews in other Islamic nations. It is a history fraught with tensions, that yet despite both dhimmitude and ghettoization (let alone occasional pogroms), gave rise to rich cultural expression and relative well-being. Putting aside Islam’s inherent cultural biases against Jewish people, it was Moroccoan Sultan Muley Hassan who wrote in 1882, “He who commits an injustice against the Jews shall be my enemy on the Day of Judgment.” Not sixty years later, the Moroccans defied Nazi Germany by refusing to turn over their Jewish population for extermination.
Prior to Israel’s declaration of independence, the Jewish population of Morocco stood somewhere in the range of a quarter million. Today it rests at about 5,500, the majority having emigrated to Israel on the heels of a pan-Arab anti-Jewish backlash over the nakbah. Amidst worsening conditions following the Six Day War, the rift between Moroccan Muslims and their Jewish neighbors began to heal under the stewardship of King Hassan II, and — with the exception of a recent spate of attacks by Islamic extremists thought to be allied with al Qaeda — the Jewish community has regained stability, if not prestige. Morocco is now widely considered Israel’s closest friend in the Arab world, much to the chagrin of Israel’s detractors.
In fact, of all the Islamic nations, it is only in Morocco today that a Jew has the ear of the nation’s leadership. And though it is but one Jew, he is making quite a difference:

Andre Azoulay considers himself a member of a very elite club of Jewish advisers to Muslim rulers.
The only problem, he said, “is that I am the only club member.”
“My position is not as usual as it could be,” the counselor to King Muhammad VI of Morocco said in an interview Monday. “It is very frustrating to be in the only Arab and Muslim country where a Jew can be in my position.”

Azoulay was awarded an honorary doctorate yesterday from Ben Gurion University for his work as a peace activist, seeking a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“As far as I can remember,” he said, “I was always fighting to find a way out which will give a chance to the Palestinians to recover their freedom, dignity, their identity [and] their state, and give by that a chance to make Israel more secure, more safe, more peaceful, and stronger.”
According to Azoulay, who lives in Rabat and has an office in the palace, Israel’s security is tied to the Palestinans’ well-being. “I don’t see the possibility of [a] strong, viable and secure state for Israel without a decent political solution to the Palestinian people – which means a full and sovereign Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.”
[…] His drive to fight for Palestinian rights came from his Jewish upbringing in his hometown in Morocco, he said. He was taught by his rabbi that being Jewish meant he should believe “my [non-Jewish] neighbor must enjoy the same values as me. My neighbor today in my mind is Palestinian. Until the Palestinian people recover their dignity, their freedom, I feel my Judaism is weaker and hurt.”

Azoulay’s prominence serves as a sterling example of what is possible when inflamed rhetoric ceases and humanitarianism becomes our drive. It is by no means perfect scenario, as I’m certain some will deride his role as a token “self-hater” (ie., liberal moderate) to be meaningless in the grand scheme of things, however I do consider it a positive start. Where there is honesty about the positive aspects of our historic relationship with Islam, and a genuine concern for the sanctity of all human life — rather than mere lip service — I believe there will be more openness and willingness within the Islamic world for Jewish voices to be welcome and heard. Only through dialogue and kinship can we work to repair our relationship with the Muslim world, and to bring about an end to the Arab-Jewish conflict.
Azoulay is leading the charge in that respect, and I applaud Ben Gurion U for acknowledging his contribution.

9 thoughts on “Moroccan Jewish Vizier Leads by Example

  1. Don’t forget Bulgaria too rebecca. Except in Bulgaria’s case, the country was under Nazi occupation, not Vichy. Had the Nazis not been defeated in North Africa, in all likelihood the Jews of Morocco would have been exterminated. Another year and deportations would have started in earnest.
    Also, while this post is indeed very nuanced, don’t think that the situation for most Moroccan Jews was that great prior to the Nakba. Anti-Semitism always existed in Morocco.

  2. Did you know that the Jews of Morocco themselves begged the Sultan to repeal the 1864 and 1880 edicts of tolerance, because once the Moroccan population got wind of them they began to murder Jews in the street? The Alliance Israélite Universelle in Morocco reported that 307 Jews were killed during the period between 1864 to 1880, and not a single one of those murders resulted in a trial or any sort of prosecution.
    And don’t make it seem like anti-Jewish rioting started in the Muslim world as a result of the 1948 war (or, as you insist on calling it for some reason, the nakba). A series of blood libels beginning in Syria in 1840 spread the blood libel across the Arab world, resulting in multiple pogroms throughout the latter part of the 19th century. Arab opposition to Zionism generally found its voice in presecution against their own Jewish communities, who were often not even significantly involved in Zionist activity, particularly in Egypt and Iraq. And do I have to mention the Farhud, which predated the “nakba” by seven years?
    The best a Jewish community could hope for under Muslim rule was an uneasy stability which could be easily shattered at any time, such as in Morocco – and that was the best. It could get much worse, like in Yemen, were the Jews were subjected to an extremely harsh brand of dhimmi laws and regularly were slaughtered or had their children stolen from them to be converted to Islam. This is not an enlightened history. This is an example of a dominant majority coercing a minority into eternal servitude by hanging the constant threat of violent death over their heads. Even if the dhimmi laws provided for the protection of a country’s pet Jews from foreign, non-Islamic invaders, that still doesn’t mean the Jews were in a favorable, or even safe, position.
    The “positive aspects of our historical relationship with Islam” only appeared when our Islamic overlords deigned to allow us to service them and let up the pressure for awhile. The positive aspects of our historical relationship with Islam require that Islam be the religion in power. That’s how triumphalist religion works. It may be “tolerant” of other religions, but only if it has control over them. The same situation existed in Europe with Christianity as state religion. Why was there such widespread violence in the Muslim world in response to the creation of the state of Israel? Was it because of the persecution of Palestinians, who before the Jews arrived were well-persecuted by their fellow Arabs? Of course not. It was an affront that the Jews, who were to be permanently relegated to second-class citizen status after the advent of Islam, were becoming the dominant, self-determined power on “Islamic land.”
    I don’t know about you, but I like self-determination. Positive aspects of religiously-mandated servitude and second-class citizenship be damned.

  3. I don’t think Mobius was calling it the nakba; he was saying that that’s how the backlashing Arabs were perceiving it.

  4. Michael’s points are well taken, but he’s neglecting the special status Moroccan Jews were given by the French protectorate; poor Muslims had reasonable cause to link the AIU and the Jews with colonialism, even while they might send their kids to AIU schools.

  5. But to say that the Jews’ special treatment by the protectorate is a cause of anti-Semitism would be to ignore the hundreds of years of often extremely violent persecution in Morocco – forced conversion under the Almohads, Muslim uprisings upon the arrival of Spanish Jewish exiles, and plenty more. The Jews’ and the protectorate’s relationship may have served as a catalyst for anti-Jewish persecution, but the feeling and the will was already well entrenched in Morocco’s population. And in any case, it’s certainly not a justification.

  6. Good post. All of you definitely raise important points. Pogroms in Morocco were in fact more closely linked to anti-Semitic sentiment in the country, but for the most part Morocco has been pretty decent, especially for the past half-century. It is nice to recognize the work that King Hassan and King Muhammad have done for the sake of peace in the region. (Even during the 60s, King Hassan maintained some communication with Israel and tried to work with both sides.) King Muhammad has also met with Jewish leaders and publicly spoken out against anti-Semitism, one instance in particular being in the aftermath of an anti-Semitic incident by a few Muslim youths.

  7. I’m pretty sure that I read in the new Yad Vashem that while the Bulgarians did not deport any of the Bulgarian jews, the bulgarian government was also occupying part of the former yugoslavia (Macedonia), and did deport the Macedonian jews…kind of put a damper on a really nice story for me…

  8. Robbie, it does put a damper on the whole story. From Wikipedia:
    “The Nazi-allied government of Bulgaria, lead by Dobri Bozhilov, deported a higher percentage of Jews from the areas of Greece and Macedonia that it occupied to holding camps in Bulgaria and then onto death camps in the north, than did German occupiers in the region.”
    In Bulgaria, however, normal Bulgarians led by Orthodox Bishop Stefan of Sofia demonstrated against deporting Jews from the country, and the government gave in to their demands. Also, Ditimar Peshev, vice chairman of Parliament, also spoke out against deportations and played a huge role. They are responsible for saving about 50,000 Jews.
    Here’s an article from Jewish Week :
    It is important to remember what horrors took place as well as the righteous gentiles who saved many Jewish lives.

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