By Bourchachene Wail
Rabat – It’s not strange to find Hitler’s book ”Mein Kampf” sold on Moroccan streets. According to Hamid, a Casablanca book seller, many people come to him specifically to buy ”Mein Kampf.”
“People ask for it, even tourists do. We ran out of copies last summer,” he said.
Library de France also has multiple copies of Mein Kampf. According to the store’s owner, copies are brought by random sellers from publishing houses in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. It is one of the store’s best-selling books.
In October 2015, videos aired from a mass demonstration in Casablanca in support of Palestinians, which featured men dressed as haredi Orthodox Jews destroying a model of the al-Aqsa mosque before being led as prisoners by men wearing keffiyehs to a fake execution.
“These disturbing scenes come on the heels of other expressions of anti-Semitism we’ve seen in Morocco and may have a destabilizing effect not only in North Africa but among the Muslim communities in Europe, where Moroccans make up a large share of the population,” Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director of international relations, said.
Samuels also mentioned the presence of anti-Semitic literature such as Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Henry Ford’s “International Jew” at Casablanca’s International Fair of Publishing and Books in February 2015. This book fair is often billed as the most important book fair in the Arab world. Moroccan authorities, “may wish to appease extremists by turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism,” Samuels said.
Anti-Semitism is prejudice against, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. The root word “Semite” sometimes gives the false impression that anti-Semitism is directed against all Semitic people. However, the word anti-Semite was popularized in Germany in 1879 as a scientific-sounding term for the previously-used term Judenhass (Jew-hatred), and that has been its common use ever since.
“This sort of hatred among young people is due to ignorance of the history of Judaism in Morocco, and Moroccan Jewish culture and heritage,” Zhor Rehihil, the director of Morocco’s Jewish Museum, said. The role of the Jewish Museum is to “tell Moroccans about their identity, including Jewish culture, which is one of its main parts.”
Rehihil argues that reports claiming that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Morocco do nothing to help the museum’s mission.
“It’s very disappointing, after almost 20 years of directing this museum, to hear such things, about hatred of Jews, as if it was widespread public opinion,” Rehihil said.
The Moroccan Minister of Culture, Mohammed Amine Sbihi, also responded to criticisms regarding the Casablanca book fair in a press conference last April, saying “The books [at the fair] are approved by a special committee that ensures that the books don’t spread hate speech, violence or racism.”
Sbihi went on to question the nature of the allegations, implying that they arose because last year’s honored guest at the event was Palestinian.
Omar Louzi is the president of the Moroccan Observatory to Fight Anti-Semitism in Morocco. His organization “was created to promote cultural and linguistic diversity and strengthen its existence in Morocco and the world” as well as “to fight against anti-Semitism,” Louzi said.
Activists in the organization come from a variety of religious backgrounds.
“The Arab-Israeli conflict has always been used by Moroccan pan-Arabists to promote hatred between Muslims and Jews. The role of this observatory is to condemn anti-Semitic actions in Morocco. Our organization’s response to what was done during the march in Casablanca was an example of that. We called on the government to assume its responsibilities and to punish those who want to promote hatred among Moroccan Muslims, Jews and Christians,” Louzi said.
The organization is also against physical violence, insults and attacks against Jews, failure to ban anti-Semitic books in Morocco and the continued lack of instruction in Amazigh and Jewish history in schools.
Ahmed Wihman, president of the Moroccan Observatory Against Normalization of Relations with Israel, the organization responsible for November’s march that brought accusations of anti-Semitism, said, “We have Moroccan Jews in our organization, so it’s impossible even to think about being anti-Jewish. Anti-Semitism claims are just a cover to fight the marches against Israel and normalization of relations with it. We, as Moroccans, are proud of Jewish culture and we don’t even think about them as different from other Moroccans.”
In recent years the Moroccan government in collaboration with the Moroccan Jewish community, has restored many Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in Morocco. The Jewish Museum is the only one of its kind in an Arab country.
Rehihil, the museum’s director points out that the 2011 Moroccan constitution specifically mentions “Hebraic influence” as a major part of Moroccan culture.
“In my experience as director of the Jewish Museum, when young people begin to learn more about their culture, and the history of Jews [in Morocco], they will show more respect to Moroccan Jews,” Rehihil said.
The caretaker of the Aben Danen Synagogue in Fes, an elderly Moroccan Muslim, said, “Jews don’t find problems with Muslims [in Morocco].”
The synagogue was restored in 1999 with help from the World Monuments Fund. The project was done in collaboration with Morocco’s Ministry of Culture and the Judeo-Moroccan Cultural Heritage Foundation.
“Throughout history, Muslims and Jews lived with each other peacefully. Of course, they had everyday problems between each other, just like those Muslims had between each other in their own communities as well,” the caretaker said.
In Morocco there are several associations working to promote Jewish history and culture in Morocco and contribute to interreligious dialogue. One such organization is Association Mimouna. Founded in 2007 at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI), Association Mimouna seeks to educate the Moroccan people about Moroccan Jewish culture and encourage harmony between Jews and Muslims. Mimouna members study Hebrew and Jewish history and organize well-attended cultural events.
In September 2011, Mimouna organized a conference commemorating Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust and honoring King Mohammed V for his refusal to assent to the persecution of Jews during the Vichy occupation. The conference was recognized by the New York Times as “the first of its kind in an Arab or Muslim nation and a sign of historical truth triumphing over conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic dogma.”
Armand Lemal is a 72-year-old Moroccan Jewish former professor at Paris-Sorbonne University and musician who also goes by the stage name Jauk Elmaleh. In one of his most famous songs, “Les trois prophetes,” Lemal sings, “Oh! My master Moses and our master Mohammed, sons of my master Jesus, look to our situations and pain today.”
“I was born to a Jewish mother and a Christian father. My aunts were married to Muslims, so I see our problems today in Morocco from a very different perspective,” Lemal said.
However, Lemal acknowledges that some degree of anti-Semitism exists in Moroccan society.
“We do have mild racism in Morocco against Moroccan Jews. Some Moroccan Muslims use expressions like ‘he’s only a Jew’’ or ‘don’t mind the Jew’ or ‘dirty Jew,’” Lemal said.
Lemal believes that the solution to anti-Semitism in Morocco is education.
“I said over and over that the solution to the current situation is to educate young Moroccans, both Jews and Muslims, about their cultural identity by bringing them to mosques and synagogues. Not only kids living in urban areas but in rural areas too,” Lemal said.
Michel is an artist and the owner of a Jewish restaurant in Rabat. “Almost all Moroccan Jews are old now and they don’t come to this restaurant because I stopped making kosher food (food that conforms to Jewish dietary law) almost 20 years ago because of the lack of Jews.”
According to Michel, most Moroccan Muslims he knows treat him with respect.
“I don’t have a problem with Moroccan Muslims. I’m like a musical statue; they all respect me. But, I have problems with some criminals and harassers,” Michel said.
Michel described living with Muslim neighbors in Agdal.
“It has been 24 years now since I first moved to an apartment in Agdal, where there are two Jewish families, three families from Europe, and the residents of the remaining 47 apartments are Muslims. We have good relations with them, and we say ‘hello’ to each other each morning,” Michel said.
Said Gafaiti, PhD, is a professor of Hebrew and Hebraic Studies at the University of Fes, Saïs. Gafaiti credits anti-Semitism in Morocco to widespread ignorance of Jewish history and culture coupled with the inability to distinguish between Israel as a state and Judaism as a religion and culture.
“Protests against Israeli acts and crimes started by Islamists and socialists play a role in this misunderstanding when they attack Jews [rather than Israel]. Some writers mistake efforts to promote or share Jewish culture for pro-Israel acts.” Gafaiti said.
Like Lemal, Gafaiti also argues that education plays a key role.
“Moroccan schools play a huge part in contributing to the ignorance of Jewish culture in Morocco. A lot of Moroccans are surprised when they meet a Moroccan Jew speaking in Moroccan dialect,” Gafaiti said.
“Jewish culture is a major component of Moroccan culture, and it’s not less important than the other parts. We need to condemn and put an end to racist acts against Jews. We must teach our children about Jewish history and culture, so that we can guarantee them a country without hate, exclusion or discrimination, where their safety and good living are guaranteed.”
Photos credit: Trey Strange
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