ISSN 2330-717X

Moroccan Jews In Israel: Discrimination In The New Homeland – Analysis

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Since their expulsion from Eretz Yisrael, Jewish people around the world have called out in their thoughts and prayers for a return to their Homeland in Israel. In 1948, with the founding of the State of Israel after one of the worst crimes against humanity in history, this dream was fulfilled.  Millions of survivors of the Holocaust, and Zionists from around the world, made their way to live a life that their ancestors could have only imagined. 

Along with the millions of Jews of European origin, the Ashkenazim, came the Sephardim, Jews of African, Latin American, or Spanish origin.  Among these were hundreds of thousands of Jews from Morocco, a thriving Jewish community that had existed for thousands of years. (1) In Morocco, there had been two major immigrations of Jews, the first of which being in the first century C.E. This group of Jews mainly settled in the mountains with the Amazigh/Berber population, where many of their new neighbors converted from their native religion to Judaism. 

Migration of Moroccan Jews to Israel

The Moroccans began their migration to Israel in 1948 when the Israeli state was established, and 30,000 of the 260,000 Jews living in Morocco packed their bags to go to their designated homeland. This is not only because of their Jewish identity, but also largely has to do with the oppression that was beginning to close in.  Anti-Semitic sentiment had begun to creep into Morocco’s borders because the Moroccan Arabs were loyal to Palestinian Arabs.  This anti-Semitic sentiment only grew as the years passed, and in 1959 swastikas were dubbed in major cities like Casablanca and Rabat. Four years earlier a Zionist underground organization was created to illegally smuggle Moroccan Jews out of the country, because in 1956 their efforts to emigrate were banned by the government. As the years passed more and more Jews moved from Morocco to Israel, and by the 90s, the Jewish population in Morocco was down to 6,000. (2)

This proved to be one of the biggest migrations of Jews to Israel. They fled there because of their Jewish identity, yet once there, that is not the only identity they held on to.  The Eastern European Jews, or Ashkenazim, had established their dominant position in society by subordinating the North African and Eastern Jews, or Mizrahim. This was a divide between “eastern” and “western” Jews; a classic orientalist perspective.  Since Moroccan Jews fell under the category of Mizrahim, they did not get as many social and economic benefits as the Ashkenazim. This must have felt strange to the Moroccan Jewish identity, which also connects to the Sephardic Jewish identity. At one point in history the Jews living in Morocco relied on their western heritage to gain a higher position in the Moroccan social ladder, and deliberately separated themselves from the existing Amazigh/Berber Jews. Now it was happening to them, and they weren’t sure how to handle it.

As a result, they didn’t exactly isolate themselves as they were isolated in Morocco by the government and society, but rather they enhanced a sort of sense of community in order to strengthen themselves from within. It brought back to them the memories of success in Morocco and how prominent the roles they played in business and trade and society, and thus it allowed them to draw from their Sephardic roots and separate themselves from the “orientalist” label Eastern European Jews were sticking to their foreheads. So it is not just the Moroccan culture and identity that Moroccan Jews in Israel were clinging to, but also the Sephardic identity that made them so prosperous in Morocco upon their initial migration there from Spain in 1492 after the Reconquista.

In order to fully understand the community of the Moroccan Jews in Israel, two essential factors must be taken into account: 

The First factor: one needs to recognize how Jews were living in Morocco before they migrated to Israel. They had a deep history of culture in Morocco that they heavily influenced, and despite generally favorable treatment from the government, they had always been the “other” in the social setting, whether it be through physical isolation in the mellahs, (3) political isolation through dhimmi status, (4) or social isolation through Arab discrimination. Despite these factors they blossomed as a culture and community, and when they left they took remnants of their culture with them. 

The second factor: in need of recognition is the mental status of Jews already in Israel. This brings up the fear of “Orientalism” gripping Israeli subconscious, and the fear of anything that is not western. This found the Moroccan Jews at the lower end of the social ladder, and thus affected the way they interacted with society and the different cultural ties they drew from their low status. Actually, the reason for their attachment to Moroccan culture and identity is due not only to the fact that they are once again being isolated and thus their community became more dependent on their similar cultural roots, but also because they want to look back to their prosperous roles in Morocco as businessmen and traders and artisans and such in order to push their way up the social ladder.

Moroccan Jews find themselves in a new kind of diaspora

The Jews had established a sizable population, and respect in the region, when the second Jewish immigrant population arrived to Morocco after their expulsion from Spain during the Inquisition in the late fifteenth century. (5) These Jews contributed to the groundwork that their predecessors had laid, and became prominent in business and government. Yet when tensions increased in the middle of the twentieth century, many Jews decided to leave Morocco, their home of so many centuries and generations.  

Now, Moroccan Jews find themselves in a new kind of diaspora, far from their adopted Homeland with its unique culture and practices, even though some of them may be in Israel, their religious Homeland.  Many major challenges faced outright Moroccan Israeli immigrants, highlighting social, economic, religious, and political issues. In Israel, Moroccans faced discrimination and spiritual conflicts.  

The overlying issue in the case of Moroccan Israelis is a case of identity: where in Morocco, Moroccan Jews were defined by their Judaism, they are now distinguished in Israel by their ethnicity. This shift in self-definition, from religious distinctions to ethnic differentiation, has made Moroccan Israelis a minority within this new homeland, as the new narrative of Jews, since the foundation of Israel, is one dominated by Ashkenazi history, while Sephardic heritage is left by the wayside, not to say debased. 

This narrative has shifted over the years, and old Moroccan practices are now on the rise in Israel, yet the damage done by Israeli racism, and the streamlining of Jewish history to the detriment of Moroccan Jews, seems to be enduring, although only time will tell if Moroccan heritage will be reborn fully. 

Henriette Dahan-Kalev talks about her experience of a Jewish child from Morocco in a Camp in Israel and the discrimination she endured from the Asheknazi she had to deal with at an early age: (6)

“You are so pretty–you don’t look Moroccan.” I grew up hearing this sentence from the time my parents brought me from Morocco in 1949 to the immigrant camp Sha’ar Aliyah and to the Ma’abara [transit camp] Pardes Chana. I heard it from the white uniformed nurse, who came to our tent in the immigrant camp to tell my mother how she should raise me, my sister, and my baby brother, who was born in that tent. This nurse spoke of “raising children” as if it was something Zionists invented. The tall silver-haired Yekke [German Jew] kindergarten teacher also used this sentence. This teacher then took my name–Henriette–from me and gave me in its place the awful name “Ahuva.” She did this “because ‘Henriette’ is difficult to pronounce–both for me and the other children.” 

Upon immigration to the Israel, Moroccans faced discrimination, as they found themselves outside of the ideal narrative of European Zionism.  Zionists found themselves torn, since their “ideology, being essentially nationalist, in principle required complete equality among the descendants of various Jewish edot,” or ethnic groups. (7) In order to make a legitimate claim to a state, Zionists had to maintain that Jewish nationalism applied to all Jews, who shared a common history and destiny. 

This ideology, however, was written from the perspective of European Jews, whose diasporic history actually diverged greatly from their brethren in the East. Yet a state shares a common historical heritage, and thus such differences ought not be acknowledged, so as to not weaken the argument for the naturalness of a Jewish State. The claim must be “based upon unity of the national group”. (8) On the other hand, European Zionists were also influenced by colonialism, which “stressed the differences among groups of people living in the same, non-European, area and posited an inflexible hierarchical order”.  (9) Therefore, the stage was set for interethnic conflict, with the Ashkenazi elite maintaining their dominance over the Sephardic immigrants, while outwardly denying any differentiation amongst Jews. 

Unfortunately, the first wave of Moroccan immigration did nothing to alleviate this ideological conflict, since these immigrants were from the lowest classes of Morocco.  Not only did these classes have the least to lose, and the most to gain, from a new country, but also the wealthy elite, from Morocco, were reluctant to leave behind their wealth due to risky political conditions. 

At the time of Israel’s founding, Morocco was still under the rule of the French, who barred “emigration and raised obstacles for Jews who tried to leave for any destination whatsoever,” and therefore bourgeois families were more reluctant to leave than the poor Moroccan Jews, who undertook the illegal emigration, having no property or business to lose and more to gain from a new homeland. (10) 

Sephardim Jews inferior to Ashkenazi Jews 

Therefore, Moroccans, and their Sephardim counterparts, were not only ethnically and culturally distinct from Ashkenazim, but also were economically inferior and had an overall lower level of education. As undesirable as Moroccans were to the Ashkenazi nationals, their immigration was not to be stopped, since it helped bolster the Jewish demographic lead over Arabs in the region, and such an action would contradict Zionism’s united, nationalist ideology on the international stage. As such, the stage was set for discrimination, as these lower-class Jews disrupted the Ashkenazi Zionist’s dream and cultural eiquette, but there was no way to stop their immigration.

Faced with this concern, the early, Ashkenazi-only government had to attempt to change Sephardim, and bring them closer to “Israeli” culture, which was Ashkenazi culture established by the original Zionist settlers.  According to a 1949 Haaretz article, written by Aryeh Gelblum, immigrants from North Africa pose “a serious and threatening question,” as they were “a people whose primitiveness sets a record, their level of education borders on ignorance.” (11) 

Aryeh Gelblum stated in the same article that: (12)

“In the corners of the living quarters of the Africans … you will find the filth, card games played for money, residents getting drunk, and prostitution. … The Africans bring this way of life with them when they migrate, and it is no wonder that crime in the country is on the upswing. Young women and even young men are again not safe going out on the streets alone after dark.”

In order to ignore the nationalist problem that such an ethnicity perceived as inferior and culture posed to their nationalist ideology, Moroccans were pushed into the underbelly of society by Israeli bureaucratic systems, outside of the legislature, so as to not be officially discriminatory.  Moroccans were “directed by Israeli government officials to new villages and development towns then being established in outlying regions” of Israeli territory, where “their housing was poor, [and] they earned relatively low incomes from unskilled and semi-skilled work,” which, again, reinforced the negative stereotypes already in place. (13) 

Moroccan Jews, who had come to this Homeland in search of a better life, found “overcrowded Sephardi ghettos, discrimination against non-Ashenazim at the employment lines, and a lack of secondary school education in many of their communities”. (14) As such, Moroccans, who had been an oppressed minority in Morocco for their religion, now found themselves as an oppressed minority in Israel for their ethnicity.

The bureaucratic discrimination that the Ashkenazi elite set upon Moroccan immigrants was reinforced in daily culture and the educational system. In textbooks in early Israeli schools, Sephardim were described as “dirty, poor, contagious with infectious diseases, spiritually impotent, lacking in moral capacity, ignorant, violent, and lazy “. (15) Only Ashkenazi history was taught in schools, as the nationalist narrative of Zionism only left room for one Israeli culture, without the incorporation of the diverse traditions that Sephardim carried with them.  

Moroccan students were left with an educational and cultural system that “squashed everything and left no room for any self- development outside of that of a distorting Ashkenazi, Zionist, Israeli, and European hegemony”. (16) In addition to the streamlined, biased narrative implicit in early Israeli educational systems, several academics took on the Moroccan problem. 

Academic studies, such as those notably conducted by the Ashkenazi Karl Fuerstein in his book The Children of the Melah—The Cultural Retardation among Moroccan Children and Its Meaning in Education, (17) served to prove the inferiority of Moroccan Jews, which purportedly “proved retardation of one to two years, and very often even more, in comparison with youth of similar age in Europe“. (18) 

Faced with oppression imbedded in the Israeli bureaucracy and educational system, many Moroccans dealt with internal identity conflicts, as they struggled to fit into an Israeli society that pushed them to the margins. Both the educational system and the academic studies of the inferiority of Sephardim highlight the Ashkenazi self-conscious need to establish superiority, as their history is the one worthy of history books, and their ethnicity is the one worthy of higher intelligence. 

Black Panthers of Israel

As Moroccans faced prejudice in their Israeli Homeland, many fired back in social and political protests, changing the path of Moroccan-Israeli history.  In the early 1970s, a group of Moroccan Israeli youth came together to form the Black Panthers of Israel, a group inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement. (19) The Black Panthers claimed that Ashkenazi elite had committed “a crime” in their efforts “to destroy the culture of an entire people,” and thereby “rendering [them] without culture and without faith…suspended in a cultureless vacuum”. (20) 

On this particular point, Ella Shohat (21) wrote: (22)

“Prenant peu à peu conscience du caractère politique de leur « infériorité », les militants des Black Panthers torpillèrent le mythe du melting pot en démontrant que l’État juif abritait non pas un seul mais deux peuples. “

[“Gradually becoming aware of the political nature of their “inferiority,” Black Panther activists torpedoed the myth of the melting pot by demonstrating that the Jewish state was home to not one but two peoples.”]

While the Panthers began in the slums of Jerusalem, they gained popularity amongst large groups of Sephardim, as they “ripped open an ethnic conflict” that had been obvious, but left unsaid throughout the State’s history. (23)  Although they disbanded quickly, their outspoken protests spurred increased consciousness of the issues faced by Moroccan immigrants and other Sephardim. 

Their social movements pressured the Israeli government to increase “welfare funding and engendered a renewed sense of communal pride among Sephardim,” whose activists still look to the Panthers for inspiration. (24) While there is still a clear socioeconomic division between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Israel, Moroccans continue to make progress, touting a “growing number of Israeli-Moroccan mayors and Knesset members “.  (25)

In 1977, Moroccan, and other Sephardi support helped to overthrow the Ashkenazi political elite, and push the Likud party into power.  Although Moroccan status is certainly on the rise, their culture seems to be irreversibly damaged, and they continue to make up a significant portion of the lower class.  The social and political repression also leaked into the Israeli spiritual sphere, as Moroccan Judaism was repressed, but, like Moroccan sociopolitical status, is seeing regrowth.

From a country where religious life was intertwined with all public spheres to a state that claimed Western culture and valued secularism, while repressing Eastern culture, many Moroccan Jews felt that they had to choose between their Judaism and their Moroccan heritage. In their new homeland, religious Moroccan Jews had to “confront the split between secularism and religion even as they are torn from their cultures,” and, most significantly find a place in an Israeli society which positioned itself as “fundamentally opposed to any hint of the Arab world”.  (26)

Faced with such a choice between their regional history and their religious identity, many Sephardim chose to “to embrace Ashkenazic Orthodoxy in an effort to keep their families from becoming too assimilated” into secular cultures, and to keep their traditional practices alive, practices which many early Israelis did not follow. (27)

Henriette Dahan-Kalev, (28) a Moroccan Jew who immigrated to Israel as a child, exemplifies this point. Upon her family’s arrival in Israel, her mother became a maid. (29)  After her first day of work on an elite Israeli home, Dahan-Kalev’s mother was appalled by the complete disregard for Kashrut amongst the bourgeois.  When she arrived home, she proclaimed to her family, “They’re not Jewish!”  since they do not uphold on of the most sacred of Jewish laws. (30) 

“Cultural Retardation of Moroccan Jews”

Moroccans’ traditionalism and culture were both foreign, and deemed inferior, to that of the secular Ashkenazi Zionists.  Faced with a struggle to preserve their Moroccan Judaism as they had once known it, many Moroccans fell into step with the Ashkenazi Orthodox community, especially in response to aggressive “outreach” from Ashkenazi Orthodox communities toward the Sephardi immigrants.  Regardless of these challenges, Sephardim were often unable to continue their own practices in Sephardic synagogues anyway, since they “failed to find a critical mass of people able to support” such an establishment. (31) European Israelis chose to marginalize Moroccans along the lines of ethnicity, so Moroccans countered by holding on to their religiosity, in absence of their rich, ancient culture.

Social discrimination forced Moroccan Jewish religious practice to the fringe, but, like their political and economic status, Moroccans have attempted to recover and bolster their unique religion.  Although many rituals were lost upon their conversion to the European Orthodox community, some Moroccan Jews have continued to hold onto their traditions. In recent years, have spawned innovations to bring practices from their Homeland of old to their current Homeland.  After their emigration, Moroccans were ripped away from their multitude of sacred spaces.  

Their change in physical space led to a “painful separation from the saints whose tombs had been left behind,” as sainthood, and worship at tombs of such important personages, was a pivotal aspect of the distinct Moroccan Jewish practice. (32) Following the Jews’ departure from Morocco, “hagiolatry underwent a process of diminution and decentralization” without these central spaces of worship.  To pray with the aid of a saint, a Moroccan Jew ought to pay homage to the burial site.  While such practices did not completely disappear, their practice was “reduced into small-size, domestic affairs, moderately celebrated at home or in the neighborhood synagogue”. (33)  

The faithful attempted to adapt and adjust their hagiolatry practices, but, in the absence of the actual space, such rituals were less observed. (34) Although they had faced a sharp decline, the incorporation of saints into Moroccan practice has been on the rise. Moroccan Jews have incorporated more saints into the fold, including some who lived and died in Israel, paving the way for new shrines and holy sites. Furthermore, some significant saintly tombs have been “annexed” into Israel, either via physical movement of the tomb, or via a recreation of the site. (35)

As such, hagiolatry practices have been “preserved” despite the new physical distance from the crucial point of worship. (36) This rebirth of Moroccan Jewish practice has received opposing remarks, as some have hailed it as a “praiseworthy manifestation of authentic Jewish Maghrebi cultural traditions, heretofore shunned and suppressed by the hegemonic Ashkenazi mainstream,” while others have declared the revival as a “symptom of backwardness and de-modernization which would eventfully lead to the “disasporization” of Israel”. (37) Although Moroccans gain a sense of identity in strength in political, economic, and religious spheres, there is still much forward movement to be made, to make up for the damage of the early State’s prejudice.

The plight of Moroccan Jews at the outset of their time in Israel is reflective of the frequent contradictions and issues within a political philosophy and the policies to which a state commits on paper and in its speech.  The very existence of Moroccan Jews undermined a large part of Zionist ideology.  This theory was based on the common history and suffering of Jews throughout the world. Yet the definition of a Jew could not be religious, since many European Jews were fully assimilated into their host cultures, and, thusly, were fairly secular.  

The founding principles of Zionism were based in history and politics, and were not always religious in creed.  Therefore, the commonality by which Jews could lay claim to a state was their shared ethnicity.  Under this guise, secular Jews, who were endangered along with the religious, could fit into the Israeli narrative. Yet if Jews are to be an ethnicity, then Moroccans, and their fellow Sephardi, pose a significant problem, as they are very obviously racially and ethnically distinct.  Zionism had to ignore this distinction.  To erase the tension bore by such contradictions between the stated Zionist ideology and the actual demographics of worldwide Jewry, Israelis had to absorb the Sephardi into their cultural and religious circle. 

Final word 

The path by which Ashkenazi elite chose to address this problem was with bureaucratic and social prejudice, influenced by the European Colonialism, a prominent ideology in the regions from which they fled.  Yet Middle Eastern and North African Jews posed an even grander problem to the founders of Israel, as they hoped to posit themselves with an identity unique and distinct from their Arab neighbors. The fact that there are Jews of Arab descent is impossible, since the concept of an Arab Jew is a paradox. Therefore, Moroccans and other Jews from Arab nations posed a threat to Israeli common identity, as defined against their regional aggressors. Moroccans had to be forced to abandon their foreign, and especially their Arab, distinguishers, religion, and ties, and assimilate into European Jewish culture, in order prove the legitimacy of the Zionist call to the shared identity of Jews throughout the world. 

In conclusion, Moroccan Jews are so attached to their culture while living in Israel not only because they are somewhat singled out by the dominant Ashkenazim living there, but also because they are relying on their Sephardic identity to hike their way back up the social ladder. This shows that they aren’t withdrawing into their culture, but are rather proudly practicing their culture because they know how successful they were, and they are proud of it. Thus, Moroccan Jewish culture in Israel will continue to flourish in light of the internal separation that has and is still occurring within Israeli society.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on twitter: @Ayurinu

Endnotes:

  1.  Chtatou, Mohamed. “Emigration of Jews of Morocco to Israel in 20th Century, “Eurasia Review dated March 5, 2018. https://www.eurasiareview.com/05032018-emigration-of-jews-of-morocco-to-israel-in-20th-century-analysis/
  2.  Ibid.
  3. In Morocco, the mellah refers to the neighborhood where the city’s Jewish residents lived. High walls surrounded it in order to separate the Muslim and Jewish populations. The mellah of Fez, established in 1438, is considered the oldest neighbourhood reserved for Jews in Morocco. The word mellah means salt in Hebrew and Arabic (مِلَحْ), and also refers to a place where products are preserved with salt; but in every city in Morocco it is used to refer to the Jewish quarter. This may be because a chore imposed on the Jews of Morocco was to salt the heads of executed criminals to preserve them, before they were displayed at the city gates. This etymology seems to be judged as popular. The origin is more likely the Hebrew word “מִילָה” (“mila”, circumcision, covenant made to Abraham) passed into classical Arabic in the feminine form “مِلَّة” (“millah“, Abrahamic religion), and then into Moroccan Arabic with shortening of vowels (“mella“, moral principles, religion). The terminal H of this word is a Ta marbota which is never pronounced in modern Moroccan Arabic. The transition to the devoiced H (ح), making the word sound like the family of “ملحة” (melHa“, “salt” in Moroccan Arabic) remains poorly documented. Indeed, historical writings, French or Spanish, relating to it cite the word in Latin characters, with confusion of “ة” (feminine final where H is unpronounced), “ه” (H voiced) and “ح” (H devoiced). Other writings in Hebrew are not widely available. Cf. Gottreich, Emily. Mellah of Marrakesh: Jewish and Muslim Space in Morocco’s Red City. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006.
  4. Dhimmi (Arabic: ذمّي) is a historical term in Muslim law that refers to non-Muslim subjects of a state under Muslim governance. These subjects had both, a discriminatory and protective status that primarily required them to pay a special tax called Jizyah and loyalty to the Muslim state. In exchange, the state essentially offered protection of their lives and property and the freedom to maintain their own religion. Tradition credits the second Caliph Omar with creating the dhimmi status. This status codified for centuries the place of people of monotheistic religion, mainly Jewish and Christian minorities, who were originally in the majority in countries under Muslim rule. The set of rules or legal regime to which the dhimmis were subjected was applied with varying degrees of carelessness or severity depending on the period and the regime. The distance was sometimes considerable between the rigorist discourse of the theologians and the attitude of the jurists, who were laxer and pragmatic, which often prevailed in reality. Jews and Christians were thus appointed viziers (prime ministers), and governed the Muslims, despite their status as dhimmis. The status of dhimmi was abolished in 1855 in all countries governed by the Ottoman Empire. Cf. Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.
  5.  Chtatou, Mohamed. “Expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492 and their Relocation and Success in Morocco, “Eurasia Review dated September 5, 2O19. https://www.eurasiareview.com/05092019-expulsion-of-sephardic-jews-from-spain-in-1492-and-their-relocation-and-success-in-morocco-analysis/
  6.  Dahan-Kalev, Henriette. “You’re So Pretty – You Don’t Look Moroccan.” Israel Studies 6.i (2001): 1-14, p. 1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/250177804_You’re_so_Pretty-You_Don’t_Look_Moroccan
  7.  Tsur, Yaron, and Prosper Cohen. “The Brief Career of Prosper Cohen: A Sectorial Analysis of the North African Jewish Leadership in The Early Years of Israeli Statehood.” Sephardic Jewry and Mizrahi Jews. Ed. Peter Y. Medding. 66-99. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Index Islamicus, p. 75. 
  8.  Ibid.
  9.  Ibid.
  10.  Ibid., p. 81.
  11.  Gelblum, Aryeh. Hareetz datedApril 22, 1949, cited by Vered Lee. “The Real Reason for Racism in South Tel Aviv, “Hareetz dated January 4, 2011. https://www.haaretz.com/1.5103338
  12.  Ibid.
  13.  Weingrod, Alex, and André Levy. “Paradoxes of Homecoming: The Jews and Their Diasporas.” Anthropological Quarterly79.4 (2006): 691-716. SocINDEX with Full Text, p. 695.
  14.  Shalev, Asaf. “When Israel’s Sephardic Black Panthers Used Passover to Decry Jewish ‘Racism'” The Jewish Daily Forward. The Forward Association, Inc., 31 Mar. 2015.
  15.  Dahan-Kalev, Henriette. “You’re So Pretty – You Don’t Look Moroccan.” Op. cit., p. 4.
  16.  Ibid., p. 12.
  17.  Fuerstein, Karl & M. Richel. The Children of the Melah–The Cultural Retardation among Moroccan Children and Its Meaning in Education. Jerusalem: The Henrietta Szold Institute and the Jewish Agency [Hebrew].
  18.  Ibid., p. 6.
  19. The Israeli Black Panther movement (Hebrew: הפנתרים השחורים, HaPanterim HaSh’horim) is a social protest movement against the low status of Mizrahim (Oriental) Jews. The Black Panthers were founded by second generation immigrant figures from Muslim countries, such as Saadia Marciano and Reuven Abergel, modeled after the African-American Black Panther group. The movement began in 1971 in Mosrara, near Jerusalem, as a reaction to the discrimination practiced by Israeli governments, including leftist governments, against Mizrahim Jews since the creation of the state. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in May 1971 in response to police repression, after leaders of the movement had been arrested in earlier demonstrations. 170 activists were arrested and 35 demonstrators were injured in the clashes, while more than 70 were injured by the police.
  20.  Shalev, Asaf. “When Israel’s Sephardic Black Panthers Used Passover to Decry Jewish ‘Racism'” The Jewish Daily Forward. Op. cit.
  21. Ella Habiba Shohat, born in 1959 to Iraqi Jewish parents, is an Israeli-American professor at New York University in the departments of Art and Public Policy, Middle East Studies. Her work is in the field of postcolonial studies and cultural studies. In the preamble to one of her books, she writes: “I was born in Israel to Jewish parents who had to leave Iraq after formative years in Baghdad. We spoke Arabic at home, but my siblings and I were educated in Hebrew. ““I grew up among people who, because of their brutal uprooting, the disappearance of their landmarks, felt an immense sense of loss. I think I lived, observed and internalized their pain, and my work on Sephardic/mizrahim oppression is in a way a translation, a way to put into words the pain of my parents and family, to give voice to this sense of loss.” She explains her departure from Israel to the United States, where she prepared her doctoral dissertation, in these terms: “It was clear to me that the Israeli academic community would have difficulty tolerating the kind of critique I was trying to develop.
  22.  Shohat, Ella. Le Sionisme du point de vue de ses victimes juives : les juifs orientaux en Israël. Paris: La Fabrique éditions, 1988.
  23. Shalev, Asaf. “When Israel’s Sephardic Black Panthers Used Passover to Decry Jewish ‘Racism'” The Jewish Daily Forward. Op. cit. 
  24.  Ibid.
  25.  Tsur, Yaron, and Prosper Cohen. “The Brief Career of Prosper Cohen: A Sectorial Analysis of the North African Jewish Leadership in The Early Years of Israeli Statehood.”Op. cit., p. 695.
  26.  Wazana, Kyla. “Towards A Sephardic Jewish Renaissance.” Tikkun 17.2 (2002): 60. Academic Search Premier
  27.  Ibid.
  28.  Dahan-Kalev, Henriette. “You’re So Pretty – You Don’t Look Moroccan.” Op. cit.
  29.  Henriette Dahan Kalev, Self-Organizing Systems: Wadi Salib and The Black Panthers–Implications for Israeli Society, Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Political Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Jerusalem, 1992) 37-42 [Hebrew]; also see Uri Ram, The Changing Agenda of Israeli Sociology (New York, 1995) esp. Ch. 3, 23-46. 
  30.  Dahan-Kalev, Henriette. “You’re So Pretty – You Don’t Look Moroccan.” Op. cit., p. 6.
  31.  Wazana, Kyla. “Towards A Sephardic Jewish Renaissance.” Op. cit.
  32.  Ibid.
  33.  Idinopulos, Thomas A., and Edward A. Yonan. The Sacred And Its Scholars: Comparative Methodologies For The Study Of Primary Religious Data. Leiden; New York; Köln: E J Brill, 1996. ATLA Religion Database, p. 92.
  34.  Ibid.
  35.  Ibid.
  36. Chtatou, Mohamed. “Existence of a Veneration, Manifest of The Jewish Saints by Muslims and Muslim Saints by Jews in Morocco, “New Age Islam dated April 8, 2020. https://www.newageislam.com/interfaith-dialogue/dr-mohamed-chtatou/existence-of-a-veneration-manifest-of-the-jewish-saints-by-muslims-and-muslim-saints-by-jews-in-morocco/d/121525 “Before the arrival of the three Abrahamic religions, North Africa was mostly animistic in its beliefs, assigning spiritual qualities to animals and geographical features, such as rivers and mountains. The first monotheistic religion to establish itself prominently in Morocco was Judaism around 70 AD, and Moroccan Judaism adapted many naturalistic symbols that would become associated with its saints and spirits as the result of influence of Amazigh culture. After the arrival of Islam in the region in 711, Moroccan Islam and Moroccan Judaism shared veneration of certain saints. Those bestowed with sainthood in Morocco can vary in the reason for their Baraka, divine grace. Many other saints followed a more traditional Sufi lifestyle for which they are honoured, a lifestyle involving humility and a way of life devoid of human possession. Most saints revered by Moroccan Jews were great Rabbis and, while those of the Jewish faith will never claim openly to be praying to a saint, yet many believe saints can be of assistance in the person’s supplications to God. “
  37. Idinopulos, Thomas A., and Edward A. Yonan. The Sacred And Its Scholars: Comparative Methodologies For The Study Of Primary Religious Data. Op. cit., p. 89.

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Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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