Tuesday, December 22, 2020

  • Tuesday, December 22, 2020
  • Elder of Ziyon
Today an Israeli delegation is going to Morocco to sign several normalization agreements.

Jews whose ancestors lived in Europe generally don't look back nostalgically at their history there. But that is not the case for Jews who immigrated from Muslim countries. The Jews whose grandparents came from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco speak with a warmth about those countries that you never hear from those whose ancestors lived in Poland or Tzarist Russia.

In this sense, the normalization with Morocco is much more personal for many Israelis than the agreements with Bahrain or Sudan or the UAE, which only had tiny Jewish communities. There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis whose ancestors lived in Morocco and they want to be able to visit. 

Moroccan media is humanizing Israel as well in conjunction with the agreements. This article interviews Abd al-Rahim Chehaibi who realized that he has been fed antisemitic propaganda about Israel and went there to see the country for himself, visiting in 2015 and 2017.
Chehaibi went on to say that during his visit to Israel he was impressed by the urban and economic development of this country, and was very impressed by the way in which cultural and religious pluralism was managed there.

He says that he understood through his visits that “this country really deserves to be a role model,” and that “many of the things that we see in the media are false and ideological,” adding that “Morocco's political and economic rapprochement with Israel can benefit everyone."


Israel haters like to point to the experience of Mizrahi Jews in the early days of the State as proof that Israel is racist, saying that Israeli Ashkenazim didn't treat their fellow Jews from Arab lands as equals. It is true, but the haters don't really care about the Mizrahim. They are just looking for new excuses to call Israel racist.

Which brings us to Kazablan.

Kazablan was a popular Israeli musical from the 1960s that was made into two movies in 1973 - one in English and one in Hebrew. 

The movie is cheesy, although the songs are catchy. It is not easy to find, so I uploaded it, at least until it gets taken down for copyright reasons. (This is the Hebrew version with English subtitles.)


A gang leader named Kazablan, named after his hometown of Casablanca, lives in a slum in Jaffa along with many other Mizrahi Jews and a smattering of Ashkenazim. (His gang seems to do nothing but dance.) He falls in love with an Ashkenaz girl but he has to navigate always being treated less than human by the Ashkenazim. He gets framed for a crime by a romantic rival, and it is too easy for the police to believe that he is guilty because of his background.  A subplot has the entire neighborhood in danger of being condemned by the authorities and the neighbors needing to work together to save it. 

One of the songs  - this one from the English version - shows Kazablan singing longingly about his home in Morocco.


The counterpoint song is "Kulanu Yehudim," "We Are All Jews," where Jews celebrate their unity even as they have so many differences in origins and temperaments, even as they are insulting each other. 

This tension between the huge differences among Jews and their commonality is the story of Israel. 

The play and movie are notable because they were so popular. Clearly the Israeli public was receptive even in the 1960s to the theme of how there was a second class in Israel who had been unfairly mistreated.

Since then, of course, Israel has integrated its Mizrahim. The idea of Ashkenaz and Mizrahi Jews marrying doesn't raise an eyebrow. 

The theme of the movie, that Jews are unified despite their differences, is the polar opposite of the message from the "anti-Zionist" Jews. They want to divide the Jewish community. They are against not only unity, but the concept of unity among Jews. 

Kazablan is the anti-"Jewish Voice for Peace," the anti-J-Street. 

Moroccan feelings about Israel are complex. There are Islamists who have been preaching anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric for a long time, but that is not the mainstream. However, I am not seeing the overwhelming enthusiasm for normalization that we saw in the UAE. It is seen more as a small price to pay to strengthen Morocco's claim to Western Sahara. 

Kazablan should be translated to Arabic. (It wouldn't be hard to create an Arabic subtitle track.) Moroccans should be able to watch this if they want to understand Israel's history with Jews from Arab countries and the love that they have for their heritage there as well as the underlying Jewish unity that helps Israel be a role model for the region.

A 1973 movie could help solidify a peace deal in 2020.





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