Continuing its 'charm offensive' towards the Jews, Morocco has sent the only Jewish member of the Moroccan Human Rights Advisory Council, Professor Albert Sasson, to meet Moroccan Jews in Canada. Is Sasson's mission a laudable bridge-building exercise, or a cynical ploy to extract money? Here is a summary of an interview Sasson gave on 17 May to Elias Levy of Canadian Jewish News.
Sasson 's task is to get support from the Canadian Sephardi Community for King Mohammed Vl's brainchild of a Council of Moroccans living abroad. The king considers Moroccan Jews still to be Moroccans, no matter what other nationality they may now hold. "I don't just have 5,000 or 10,000 Jews living in Morocco," he says," I have 1 million Moroccan Jewish subjects, many of whom are now in Israel."
Sasson admits that second or third-generation Moroccan Jews have turned over a new leaf and do not want to talk about Morocco. They are not hostile, just indifferent. On the other hand many Moroccan Jews, including those in Israel, have maintained links with their country of birth. They visit members of their family or go on pilgrimages. Others invest and do business with Morocco, or act as intermediaries.
Sasson is not perturbed by the fact that in a few years' time few Jews will still be left in Morocco.
Even if only one Jew remains, the Jewish presence must be symbolically maintained. " Let us preserve the Jewish cemeteries," he says. "The one in Fez is magnificent and well kept. People go there to pay their respects. If one day peace breaks out between Israel and the Arabs, thousands of Israelis of Moroccan origin would go back to Morocco to visit. There should be someone there to greet them, to show them the cemeteries, to take them to the Hillulot (saints' shrines) and the Jewish quarters.
"The Moroccans too must play their part. In their school textbooks they must recall the Jewish contribution to Moroccan history and culture. This is our fight. We want there to be a Jewish community and to be able to tell young Moroccans that their country is pluralistic, with Carthaginian, Berber, Jewish and Arab-Muslim roots. Once Morocco acknowledges its pluralism, Morocco's Jewishness will be obvious. One must then nurture it. It would be up to the Moroccan Jewish communities in France, Holland, Canada, the US, Israel to keep the flame of Morocco's Jewish heritage burning."
The Jews were not the only ones whose history has been erased from Morocco's textbooks. Some 30 to 40 percent of Morocco's population is Berber, and their history, too, has been erased. The king has created a Royal Institute for the teaching of history and 15 of Morocco's best historians are writing a book in Arabic and French: this time, the Jewish community will not be forgotten.
Sasson urges the Moroccan Jews in Canada to endow a living memorial to their heritage. He suggests that the Canadian Moroccan Jewish community might, for instance, fund a technical college in Casablanca, even if its students are all Muslim. "Imagine what an enormous and positive impact such an initiative would have," Sasson claims."At the entrance there would be a plaque bearing the words ' gift of the Canadian Moroccan Jewish community'."
He also suggests that the Jewish community might sell off its significant property assets." This heritage cannot be passed down. Nothing can be done with it except sell it off, and replace it with something living. The day the Moroccan Jewish community sells its old synagogues, its land, and uses the proceeds to build a university, schools, libraries - the memory of Moroccan Judaism will be perpetuated."
Sasson agrees with the interviewer's point that all previous initiatives to bring together the Moroccan Jews of Israel and the diaspora have been fiascos. He blames internal politics, and Jewish leaders who simply could not work together. He claims that things are looking up on all fronts: he foresees a rapprochement between Moroccan Jews and Muslims in Canada to the point that differences over the Israel-Palestine conflict will be overlooked. Morocco is democratising and there is now freedom of speech, especially on prickly subjects.
Read article in full (French)
Colour me cynical, but this latest Moroccan initiative appears an attempt to make a dying man dig his own grave. The Jewish community is being asked to spend its tourist dollars in Morocco or to sell off its assets so that it can fund the education of young Muslims. What will it get in return ? A few stone plaques. A chapter or two in the history books: in truly democratic countries, recording the historical truth is not a favour one bestows on a beleaguered minority, it is non-negotiable. Meanwhile, the Moroccan king, speaking through his obsequious 'court Jew', does not feel the slightest remorse or guilt for any part the Moroccans might have played in the flight of Moroccan Jewry and the abandonment of their heritage. An old Yiddish word springs to mind to describe the entire project: Chutzpah.