Amid racism claims, state to open archives on Jewish North African immigration

PM makes records accessible following TV series documenting systematic abuses against Moroccans in early years of Israel

A World Jewish Congress meeting on North African Jewry in 1952. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)
A World Jewish Congress meeting on North African Jewry in 1952. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

The government on Sunday said it would open state archives on the mass immigration to Israel from North Africa in the early years of the state after a television series documented systematic, historical racism toward the newcomers.

The cabinet approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to give public access to all the archival material regarding the integration of large numbers of immigrants in the early years of the State of Israel, his office said.

The decision applies to the National Archives, police archives and the Central Zionist Archives, provided the information does not harm national security or infringe on the privacy of individuals named in the records.

Last Monday, Netanyahu referred to the show “The Ancestral Sin” (“Sallah, Po Ze Eretz Yisrael”), which used testimonials and previously sealed transcripts to depict discriminatory policies against Jews from North Africa, particularly Moroccans, in the first two decades of the state’s existence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend a Mimouna celebration in Or Akiva on April 11, 2015. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“In wake of the film ‘The Ancestral Sin,’ I instructed the cabinet secretary to check the issue with the World Zionist Organization,” he said. “The check showed that while the documents are indeed open, they are not accessible. Therefore I made a decision – they will be accessible to everyone in Israel, to everyone in the world, completely accessible. As we did with the Yemenite children affair, so we will do here.”

Last month the Knesset passed a law that would permit families of children who disappeared decades ago, most of them of Yemenite extraction, to seek a court-ordered exhumation of the graves where their relatives have been believed to be buried, for purposes of genetic testing. Families allege that newborn children were taken from immigrants from Yemen by state authorities, who told their families the babies had died.

According to the Ministry of Aliya and Immmigration, some 35,000 immigrants came to Israel from Morocco in the years following the founding of the state, particularly in 1954-55. The mass immigration ended when Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, but clandestine immigration continued and another 30,000 Jews secretly made their way to Israel in 1956-1961. In total a quarter of a million people moved to Israel from Morocco, becoming the largest group of immigrants from an Arab country.

Most of the newcomers from North Africa were housed in transit camps in development towns on Israel’s periphery.

They have long complained of discrimination by the European-descended elite that traditionally dominated government, military and business institutions.

Barber Rachamim Azar, a new immigrant from Baghdad, carries out his trade in the tent he shares with his wife and two children at a ‘maabara’ (immigrant camp) in central Israel in summer 1951. He told a Government Press Office photographer that he intended to move to a kibbutz (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

Many immigrants were forced to leave their properties and wealth behind and suffered a severe decrease in their socioeconomic status, aggravated by an austerity policy in place in Israel at the time. They were looked down on by the country’s decision-makers, who were mainly of European origin.

Jews of North Africa origins now make up roughly half of Israel’s Jewish population.

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