Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jewish Moroccans in the Netherlands: Balancing Between Cultures

Here is an article from Radio Netherlands about Moroccan Jews who live in the Netherlands. They are all at once, Moroccan, Jewish, Dutch, and also sometimes Israeli.
Jewish Moroccans in the Netherlands: Balancing Between Cultures
Published on : 3 July 2011

Stories about Dutch Moroccan youths verbally abusing or physically threatening Jews crop up fairly frequently in the Dutch media, and politicians - especially Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party - call for hard measures against “Moroccan street terrorists". What's it like to live in the Netherlands if you're both Jewish and Moroccan?

By Jannie Schippers and Mohamed Amezian

Victor Bohbot, 56, has seen the climate in the Netherlands change over the years: “I came here in 1974, the entire country was pro Israel. When I was a soldier in the IDF, met lots of Dutch truck drivers who would come to Israel to volunteer."

Until very recently, Victor ran a number of restaurants in Amsterdam, Deventer and Bussum. In 1984, he and his family left ‘for good’ and went back to Israel. However, four years later they were back in the Netherlands. “It's difficult. What am I? For the Dutch, I'm a foreigner but I'm also not a real Israeli or Moroccan".

Cross the road
Out on the street, some people comment on the Star of David that Victor wears around his neck. He says, “A little while ago, I was standing outside when a group of kids came along, about 14, 15 years old." When he greeted them in Moroccan slang (‘la bas?), everything was all nice and friendly: “When they realise I speak Arabic, everything is okay on the surface, but the way they look at me..."

Victor says that in recent years numerous Jewish Moroccans have emigrated to Israel from France: “There have been a lot more incidents in France; people really don't feel safe. I know someone who goes back and forth every week. He sent his family to Israel but he still works in Paris." Victor does not believe that it will get as bad in the Netherlands as it is in France: “The Jewish community here in the Netherlands is much smaller and much less visible". Even though Victor says he will never leave his Star of David at home because it's safer, he won't wear a yarmulke in the streets and only puts it on when he gets to the synagogue. “I don't think it's necessary to be provocative. If I see a problem walking towards me, I cross the street. My brother thinks that's cowardly; he doesn't let anybody get away with being abusive.”

"I'm one of them"

Jacob al-Malagh, a 47-year-old Jewish Moroccan mechanic, comes into contact with Dutch Moroccans on a daily basis: “About 70% of my customers are Moroccan; I work with Moroccans and for Moroccans." He meets members of the small Moroccan Jewish community in the Netherlands – between 50 and 100 people – at the synagogue and during the holidays. Jacob says his strong bond with Israel has never caused him a problem in all the 26 years that he has lived in the Netherlands. “Moroccans treat me like one of them and according to the Dutch, one says I'm an Israeli, another sees me as a Moroccan or a Jew, while another thinks I'm Dutch. I really don't care what anyone thinks.”

Bad reputation
Both Jacob and Victor say that politicians such as Geert Wilders only make the problem worse. According to Victor, “He has very extreme ideas. Wilders is not pro-Israel, his real focus is internal Dutch politics." Jacob avoids politics: “As soon as someone starts yammering about Arabs and Jews and Muslims I say sorry, that's nothing to do with me. What other people do, that's up to them. I live in the Netherlands and I want to live in peace with everybody else".

Victor has noticed that both his son and daughter have distanced themselves from the land of his birth: “My son doesn't want to admit that his father is from Morocco. Moroccans have a really bad reputation here in the Netherlands and he doesn't want to be a part of that. But I can't forget where I come from. My grandfather always used to say that if you don't know where you come from, you’ll never know where you're going."

(Partial) History of Jews in Morocco

After the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, including what is now modern Morocco. In 1492, Jews and the remaining Moslems were expelled from Catholic Spain and many ended up in Morocco. Moroccan Jews had a specific niche in society and had their own synagogues. After the establishment of the state of Israel in the wake of the Second World War, many Jews left the country, fearing outbreaks of religiously-motivated violence. There are less than 5,000 Jews left in Morocco.

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