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Ottawa Citizen

May 19, 2003 Monday Final Edition

SECTION: News; Pg. A6

LENGTH: 512 words

HEADLINE: Muslim support heartens
Morocco's Jews: Northwestern Africa has been a haven for Jews since their expulsion from Spain in 1492. David Sharrock and Adam LeBor report.

SOURCE: The Times, London

BYLINE: David Sharrock and Adam LeBor


Morocco - Grisly remains still clung to the demolished entrance of a Jewish social club yesterday, a reminder of the horrific attacks launched here on Friday evening and a talisman of bad fortune for Morocco's dwindling Sephardic community.

But Jews here have been heartened by expressions of support from their Muslim compatriots expressing anger and outrage over the attacks.

Victor Mamane, a leader of Casablanca's Jews, said: "Many Muslims have telephoned us to show their solidarity, to say that they are with us. We feel reassured by the authorities' response to this attack, and we have every confidence in them."

Less than a hundred years ago the Sephardim -- which means "from Spain" in Hebrew -- could count themselves in their hundreds of thousands, a legacy of the expulsion of the Jews by the Catholic King Fernando and Queen Isabel of Castille and Aragon in 1492.

The Maghreb was for centuries a refuge for the Ladino-speaking Jews -- although many moved on to Turkey and the Balkans -- but the creation of the state of Israel changed everything. Had Arab and Zionist leaders not co-operated to remove the Arab world's Jews, Casablanca would probably be as Jewish today as New York. But the Arab-Israeli wars reduced their numbers to little more than 6,000 -- and the figure is falling.

Many Moroccan Jews opted to emigrate to Israel and now constitute the bedrock of support for Likud, the party of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. These right-wing, mainly working-class Israelis, who mainly oppose a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, draw on their "folk memory" of living under Arab rule to justify their intransigence. Other Moroccan Jews departed for Europe, the United States and Canada.

A year ago, a Jew was stabbed in the Lusitania, the area of central Casablanca where most Moroccan Jews live. The wearing of the skullcap in public has since all but ceased.

Islamic fundamentalists occasionally stir the pot. A leading sheik recently launched an extraordinary public attack on Andre Azoulay, the last Jewish adviser to an Arab leader.

"Jews sympathize with Israel; they cannot be trusted with the affairs of a Muslim state," said Sheik Zimzami. Mr. Azoulay, who is adviser to King Mohamed, preferred not to comment yesterday, saying he was not a spokesman for the Jewish community. But his silence was mirrored everywhere and the complacency, or in many cases a passive hostility, of Moroccans to the plight of the Jews is what Aboubakr Jamai, editor of Le Journal, calls simply "a tragedy for the country."

Morocco is one of the few Arab countries to celebrate the heritage and contribution of its Jewish community, and takes pride in a tradition of cosmopolitan tolerance that has its root in medieval Islamic Spain, known as Jewry's "Golden Age," when Jewish writers, thinkers and philosophers wrote in Arabic.

Jews in
Morocco, like Christians, were treated as dhimmi, a protected minority, but one subject to special restrictions and taxes to remind them of their subservient status. They still flourished.