France Waking Up to Its Anti-Semitism?

The subliminal message: (a) Hollande saw Netanyahu as the legitimate prime minister of a legitimate democracy; (b) Hollande agreed that Israel, as a Jewish country, had a legitimate interest in the fate of Diaspora Jews; and (c) Hollande was not going to sacrifice the French Jews to mere electoral arithmetics.

French Jews (who have moved very much to the Right over the past thirty years) may or may not be convinced by Hollande’s attitude. Many of them note that for all that, his administration carries on with many anti-Israel policies: socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault just bestowed the government sponsored Human Rights Prize to Michel Warschawski, a radical French-Israeli anti-Zionist activist; and the socialist-dominated Regional Council for Ile-de-France (Greater Paris) passed a cooperation agreement with the Palestinian "Jerusalem Governorate," a Palestinian Authority branch intended to take charge of "Arab Jerusalem."

Even those who are impressed wonder if it does not come too late. As an elderly gentleman of Moroccan-Jewish descent confided to me last week: “The yogurt’s expiry date is now." The gentleman elaborated:

Back in Morocco, we used to be members of the national elite. Right after independence, in the late 1950s, my father was seen as a close friend of King Mohamed V. He had access to everybody in the government. He held important positions. Then, one day, he told his stunned family that we were leaving for France. And forsaking the best part of our money and belongings. We, the children, were aghast: "What is going on?" we asked. And our father told us: "The yogurt’s expiry date is now. From now on, we have no future anymore in Morocco. We must go, as long as we can go.”

Indeed, most Jews left Morocco in less than twenty years, and most had to relinquish most of their goods upon leaving. There were 350,000 Moroccan Jews -- out of a global population of 10 million -- in 1956, when the French and Spanish protectorates were lifted and the “Sharifian Empire,” as it was then known, resumed full sovereignty. In the early 1970s, only a few thousand were left.

Some Jews left for Israel even before independence, when the French still ruled most of the country. Most left for Israel, France, or Canada during the first ten years of King Hassan II’s reign, from 1961 to 1971. Hassan II was then playing the “progressive,” pan-Arabist, and proto-Islamist card, and gave free rein to anti-Jewish intimidation or harassment.

He changed his mind when he survived two assassination attempts, in 1971 and 1972, and realized that some of his hitherto closest advisors were involved. Some say that he then remembered an old prophecy according to which the Alawi dynasty he belonged to would last as long as Jews would be found in Morocco. Some others more soberly say that he needed American aid to survive, and that America paid much attention to his attitude towards Jews. Whatever his motivation, the king made sure after 1972 that the last Jews still living in Morocco should stay, and that even some other Jews should be cajoled into starting business or buying property in the country. All in all, a residual three thousand-soul community has thus been maintained to this day.

As for Mohamed VI, who succeeded Hassan II in 1999, he has so far been a friend of the Moroccan Jewish community, both in and outside Morocco, and a genuine moderate in Israeli-Arab affairs. The 2011 constitution -- passed as the Moroccan answer to the so-called "Arab Spring" -- specifically mentions the Jewish heritage as part and parcel of the national Moroccan heritage, a noble and praiseworthy move on the part of an Arab country.

But the point is that at least 98% of the counted Moroccan Jews were induced to leave Morocco under very short notice. Which gave some weight to what the elderly gentleman had to say next:

I never thought anything like that would happen to me again, and in France at that, of all countries. ... But here we are. The expiry date has been reached again. We must go. My children and grandchildren must go. And I, an old man, must go too.