Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sir Moses Montefiore's visit to Morocco, 1863

In October of 1863, a Spaniard in Morocco died, and naturally the community found a Jewish scapegoat(from Sir Moses Montefiore: a centennial biography, published in 1884):
At Saffi, a seaport on the West coast of Morocco, a
Spaniard had died suddenly, and suspicions of foul
play, probably poisoning, had been aroused in the
mind of the Spanish Consul. In his official capacity
he called upon the Moorish authorities to investigate
the case, and they, in great trepidation, cast about for
a convenient scapegoat. The procedure was singular.
No steps were taken to ascertain whether there were
any facts to establish the cause of death, or to show
that it had a connection with crime; but the most
convenient person was forthwith arrested and examined
under the scourge and other kinds of torture.
Israelites being the least protected of the population,
the culprit was sought among their body, and it being
discovered that a Jewish lad, about fourteen years of
age, Jacob Wizeman by name, had resided in the
family of the deceased, he was seized and "examined."
The fourteen year old boy was tortured and finally confessed to this "crime" and he gave the names of eleven other Jews as co-conspirators.
The lad, when released, re-asserted his innocence ; this, however, did not save him. His confession being on record, he was condemned to death by the Moorish authorities and publicly executed, the Spanish Consul acquiescing in the sentence, notwithstanding the irregular manner in which the conviction had been obtained.
Eight of the other eleven were sentenced to prison and one other was tortured and executed.

Anti-Jewish riots broke out, described here in Appletons' Annual Cyclopædia and Register of Important Events of the Year, 1863:
The most notahle case of persecution of Jews occurred, in 1863, in Morocco, a country in which as in Mohammedan countries in general they have often been taxed, fined, beaten with " khoorbashes," bastinadoed with maize canes; in which they have been torn from their shops by agas and emirs to work for nothing, laughed at in the law courts, derided in public, oppressed in private, their complaints disregarded, their rights ignored, and their adopted home made for.them a place of misery and shame.

The account of their sufferings induced that celebrated Jewish philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, to undertake a journey to the sultan of Morocco, to implore justice for his co-religionists.
Sir Moses was resolved to sec the sultan, and ask justice in the name of God and man. He pushed up the country by marches of fifteen miles a day, in the horse litter used by women «nd the sick—his name and the nature of his errand going before him....[The sultan] welcomed his generous visitor; admired the spirit and fortitude which had brought his silver hairs so far at such a season ; praised the well-known exertions of the baronet for others, not of his race only, but of all creeds in other countries; finally, he received very graciously the petition for justice. A few days afterward a firman appeared:

"In the name of God the merciful and gracious," granting to his Jewish subjects perfect equality of right and of protection under the law. " For," says the sultan, with truth, not the less sound or welcome because it is tardy, " injustice here is injustice in Heaven, and we cannot countenance it in any matter affecting either the Jews' rights or the rights of others, our own dignity being itself opposed to such a course. All persons in our regard have an equal claim to justice, and, if any person should wrong or injure one of the Jews, we will, with the help of God, punish him."

Montefiore not only managed to get this proclamation to protect the Jewish minority in Morocco, but he got the sultan to extend similar protection to Christians. In addition, he got the prisoners released. He also interceded for a Moorish man who was unjustly accused of killing two Jews:
Sir Moses did not confine his attention to the Jews.
During his stay at Tangier he was one day visited by
a large deputation of Moors, about fifty in number,
who, with their chiefs, had come from a distant part
of the country to appeal to him. to intercede for the
release of one of their tribe, who had been imprisoned
during two years and a half on suspicion of having
murdered two Israelties, but had not been brought to
trial. Gratified at this display of confidence in his
sense of justice on the part of the native population,
generally so hostile to Jews, Sir Moses made careful
inquiries into the case, and, finding that the man's
guilt had not been proved, promptly interceded with
the authorities. In a few hours the prisoner's chains
were removed, and he was brought by the members of
his tribe to return thanks to his deliverer. Sir Moses
availed himself of the opportunity to urge the grateful
Moors to show kindness and afford protection to his
co-religionists; and they readily gave their solemn
promise that all Jews travelling in their district should
be safe.
And finally he donated money to establish a Jewish girls' school in Tangiers.

He accomplished all of this in eight days, traveling throughout Morocco on camel, covering sixteen miles a day.

Montefiore was eighty years old.