When the State of Israel was established in 1948, it offered a beacon of hope to Jews worldwide, a homeland where they could live free from persecution and express their Jewish identity without fear. However, for the Moroccan Jews who migrated to Israel during the major waves of aliyah in the 1950s and 1960s, the dream of a welcoming homeland was tainted by discrimination and prejudice.
To fully comprehend the discrimination faced by Moroccan Jews, one must delve into the larger context of the Jewish diaspora. The Jews of Morocco have a rich history that dates back over two millennia. Throughout these centuries, they developed a unique blend of customs, traditions, and practices, deeply influenced by their coexistence with the Muslim majority and the country’s Berber and Arab heritage.
Arrival in Israel: A Culture Shock
Upon their arrival in Israel, Moroccan Jews were met with a predominantly Ashkenazi establishment that held European-oriented views on culture, governance, and societal norms. These Ashkenazi Jews, originally from Central and Eastern Europe, had arrived earlier and played a major role in laying down the state’s infrastructural and ideological foundations.
The clash was almost immediate. Moroccan Jews faced patronizing attitudes from officials and the Ashkenazi populace. They were viewed as “primitive” or “backward,” their traditions seen as less “refined” compared to their European counterparts. Many were placed in development towns in peripheral areas, far from the main centers of power and culture, in conditions that starkly contrasted the urban life they had known in Morocco.
Educational and Cultural Suppression
Children of Moroccan immigrants were often sent to separate schools, where the emphasis was on “Hebraization” and assimilation into the dominant Israeli culture. In these environments, their native Judeo-Arabic dialect, customs, and traditions were often marginalized or outright suppressed. The objective was to mold these children into what was deemed a “proper Israeli,” which invariably leaned heavily on Ashkenazi norms.
Economic and Social Disparities
Economically, many Moroccan Jews found themselves in blue-collar jobs, regardless of their qualifications or the professions they held back in Morocco. This economic disparity perpetuated social divisions. Moroccan Jewish communities often lacked the same level of infrastructure, access to quality education, and healthcare facilities as their Ashkenazi counterparts.
Towards Recognition and Reconciliation
As the years progressed, the discrimination faced by Moroccan Jews became a salient issue within Israeli society. The younger generation, born and raised in Israel, began to challenge the existing narratives. The Israeli Black Panthers, inspired by the American civil rights movement, were among the prominent movements that emerged in the 1970s, advocating for the rights of Mizrahi Jews, which includes Jews from Morocco.
Moreover, Moroccan Jews have made significant strides in various fields in Israel – from politics and academia to arts and literature. The rich tapestry of Moroccan Jewish culture has started to gain the recognition it deserves, with festivals, music, and culinary traditions celebrating its unique blend of Jewish and Moroccan heritage.
The story of Moroccan Jews in Israel is a testament to the resilience of a community that, despite facing prejudice and discrimination, managed to carve out a space for itself in a new homeland. It serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities of nation-building and the importance of embracing diversity. While challenges persist, the Moroccan Jewish community’s journey from the peripheries to the center of Israeli discourse is an inspiring tale of perseverance, identity, and the continual quest for justice.