It’s November in Morocco – time for the annual fixture of the cultural calendar – the Essaouira Music festival. The Economist has been gushing about what it calls ‘Morocco’s little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence’. Yet, the Nov. 2nd article admits that only three Jews still live in Essaouira – a city which used to have as many Jews as Muslims before the great exodus to Israel. Fisking by Lyn Julius in UK Media Watch:
At the Essaouira music festival (Photo: The Economist)
One of those Jews is Jacquy Sebag, who works in Casablanca and was attacked with an axe by
Muslim extremists in 2002 during the Palestinian intifada. You would
never guess that unpleasant things ever happened to Jews in Morocco,
which the Economist portrays as a haven from European persecution.
It is true that many Jews expelled from
Spain and Portugal in the 15th century fled to Morocco, but it is
misleading to infer that Jews and Muslims had always coexisted
peacefully. In 1492 the Jewish community of Touat was wiped out after
incitement by the fundamentalist al-Maghili. The 15th century was also the century when thousands of beldiyeen, Jews who had been settled in Fez for centuries, converted to Islam. Moroccan Jews suffered more massacres than anywhere else in the Arab world, including the Oujda and Jerada riots in 1948.
As the Economist correctly
reports, no Arab country has gone to the lengths of Morocco to revive
its Jewish heritage. There are sound economic and strategic reasons for
this: Tourism attracts 40,000 Jewish tourists, of which 3,000 are
Israelis (and not as reported), and is a major Moroccan industry.
Coexistence projects such as the Essaouira festival are mainly for external consumption. The ethnographer Aomar Boum writes in Memories of Absence that the Jewish Museum in Casablanca is almost unknown amongst Moroccans themselves.
Morocco has a strategic interest in
projecting a positive image of Jewish-Muslim coexistence in order to
gain US support for its claim to western Sahara. (It is the old
antisemitic trope: Jews are thought to be behind US foreign policy). The
mastermind behind this strategy is Andre Azoulay, who has been royal
adviser on Jewish affairs since the 1990s. The Economist – and many other western media – are willing PR mouthpieces for the Moroccan government.
The Moroccan king has made a calculated
risk to promote Jewish culture in the face of increasing threats to his
regime from Moroccan Islamists. In Essaouira itself, an Israeli
resident, Noam Nir, witnessed rising antisemitism.
But there is no avoiding the fact that
the Jews, who in 1948 numbered 360,000, have now almost entirely
disappeared from the country. The more Morocco promotes Jewish culture,
the fewer Jews there are to enjoy it.
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