The Sultan's Communists
Moroccan Jews and the Politics of Belonging
Alma Rachel Heckman


Contents and Abstracts
The Sultan's Communists: An Introduction
chapter abstract

The introduction presents the main interventions and arguments of the book in the overlapping fields of Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Maghrib Studies, and the history of global Communism. It depicts how the precolonial paradigm of Jews as representatives of the sultan, and the sultan as "protector" of the Jews, came under assault in Morocco with the introduction of European colonialism, formalized into French and Spanish Protectorates over Morocco. Across its chapters, the book demonstrates how the precolonial paradigm of "belonging" to the sultan became repurposed for modern Jewish participation in the future independent nation-state of Morocco. Most Jews active in the national liberation movement were members of the Moroccan Communist Party. Across the twentieth century, the book argues that the "Sultan's Jews" became the "Sultan's Communists," demonstrating Moroccan Jewish patriotism and the mutually constitutive nature of "Moroccanness" and "Jewishness."

1 Choices: Fascism and Anti-Fascism in Interwar Morocco
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 describes Morocco as it was divided between French and Spanish Protectorates, focusing on the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, Jews enjoyed a wide array of political choices, including pro-French Alliancism; leftist Popular Front activism, notably through the International League Against Anti-Semitism (LICA), as well as the Communist Party of Morocco; and Zionism, which boasted robust cultural and intellectual organizations in the country since the late nineteenth century. The interwar period for Moroccan Jews was characterized by a fluidity of political affiliations that were not yet mutually exclusive. Global political polarization between rising fascism, anti-Semitism, Communism, universalism, nationalism, and Zionism within Morocco intersects with the rise of Nazism, the Spanish Civil War, and the Great Revolt in Mandate Palestine, braiding Moroccan Jewish and Muslim political life into narratives of the biggest political questions rocking the Middle East, including rising pan-Islamic and pan-Arab movements.

2 Possibilities: World War II and Moroccan Jewish Belonging
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 focuses on the Second World War and its effects on Moroccan Jewish and Muslim political life. With France's fall to Nazi Germany in 1940, the collaborationist Vichy regime applied anti-Semitic legislation in Morocco. While unevenly enforced, such legislation called for severe restrictions on employment, education, and housing for Moroccan Jews. This chapter examines Vichy rule in Morocco and the related spikes in anti-Semitism and fascism. It also describes the efflorescence of political possibilities for Moroccan Jews and Muslims that followed the success of Operation Torch. Yet, the previous fluidity of political choices hardened into mutually exclusive possibilities. Moroccan Jews asked themselves whether it was best to stay in Morocco or to leave. Simultaneously, the chapter charts the transformation of the Moroccan Communist Party into a nationalist organization that included a critical number of politicized Jews.

3 Tactics: Jews and Moroccan Independence
chapter abstract

Chapter 3 uncovers the previously untold story of Jewish participation in the Moroccan national independence movement, disproportionately from within the Moroccan Communist Party. It examines Moroccan Jewish political life in conjunction with Israel's establishment in 1948, Moroccan independence in 1956, and strife in the Middle East. Friction developed between the Communist and the Istiqlal Parties in the common fight to throw off colonial rule. Tensions also reigned within the Moroccan Jewish community as it navigated an escalating series of questions regarding its future in Morocco. Most Moroccan Jews were not politically active. To most, the Jewish Communists represented a liability for the stability of the community. Meanwhile, questions of Jewish loyalty to Morocco and the identity of Morocco as a Muslim state became linked to anti-Zionism and Arab nationalism. Increasingly, Moroccan Jewish Communists were isolated from the wider Jewish community, moving in opposite practical and ideological trajectories.

4 Splinters: Disillusion and Jewish Political Life in the New Morocco
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 traces the difference between the idealized Morocco of national liberation and the reality of increasing political repression. Splinters formed between Moroccan Jews and Muslims, and between leftist movements and the state. Mass migrations of Moroccan Jews to Israel began in the wake of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's visit to Morocco, the sinking of a ship carrying Jews bound for Israel, and the unexpected death of King Muhammad V. King Hassan II sought to crush leftist movements, forcing the Moroccan Communist Party underground. Two attempted coups against the king and mass popular uprisings only increased repression. Splinters also developed between the majority Jewish community and the Jewish Communists: while most Jews left for Israel, Moroccan Jewish Communists pleaded for Jews to reject Zionism and remain loyal to Morocco. Among Moroccan Jewish Communists, some embraced a more accommodationist approach to the state, while others joined more radical opposition organizations.

5 Co-optation: The Moroccan Cold War, Israel, and Human Rights
chapter abstract

Chapter 5 analyzes the infamous Years of Lead and how Moroccan Jewish Communists diverged in their responses. Morocco began to publicly embrace its Jewish past while imprisoning its most well-known Jewish Communists in horrendous conditions. Some prominent Moroccan Jewish Communists worked with the state, notably supporting the 1975 Green March. Others supported Sahrawi independence and faced decades of imprisonment. This chapter examines the development of the state's narrative of Moroccan Jewish tolerance alongside King Hassan II's relationship with Israel and the United States. Meanwhile, international human rights organizations militated on behalf of prominent Moroccan political prisoners, among them Jews, pressuring the monarchy to release them. With the end of the Cold War and the death of King Hassan II, the state embraced the previously marginalized and reviled Moroccan Jewish Communists as national heroes, upheld as symbols of Moroccan Jewish exceptionalism within the region.

Scarification: A Conclusion
chapter abstract

The conclusion summarizes the book's main arguments while recapitulating the broad narrative and temporal sweep of its subject matter. It highlights the apparent paradox raised in the introduction of the book: how a minority of a minority, a small group of Moroccan Jewish Communists, reviled as pariahs and liabilities by many, became among the most prominent state-supported symbols of Moroccan liberalism and Muslim–Jewish interfaith harmony or convivencia in the region. It demonstrates the continuity of the Sultan's Jews into the Sultan's Communists, shedding light on ongoing political and cultural developments in Morocco under King Muhammad VI.