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  • Oren Kosansky and Aomar Boum

In this historically and anthropologically oriented article, we situate the recent wave of Jewish-themed Moroccan films within the context of the liberalizing transformations and associated nationalist narratives promoted by the current Moroccan regime. Reflecting Mohammed VI's commitment to widening the space of civil society, the task of enacting these transformations and producing these narratives devolves increasingly to nonstate agents in the public sphere. Previously monopolized and managed more comprehensively by the state, the “Jewish Question”—that is, contestations over representations of Jews as authentic members of the Moroccan body politic—is now taken up in a range of public media less subject to direct government control. We demonstrate that the role of cinema in this process reflects the shifting relationship between state and civil society in the late postcolonial period. More specifically, we argue that the production, circulation, and reception of Jewish-themed films is diagnostic of the state's ability to open new spaces of public representation and debate that foster precisely those images of the state and nation promoted by the current regime in regional and global contexts.

Corresponding author
Oren Kosansky is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Ore.; e-mail:
Aomar Boum is an Assistant Professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.; e-mail:
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1 Marx, Karl, “On the Jewish Question,” in Identities: Race, Class, Gender and Nationality, ed. Alcoff, Linda and Mendieta, Eduardo (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003 [1843]), 1728.

2 Schroeter, Daniel and Chetrit, Joseph, “Emancipation and Its Discontents: Jews and the Formative Period of Colonial Rule in Morocco,” Jewish Social Studies 13 (2006): 170206.

3 Mufti, Aamir, Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007).

4 On the nature of this transformation and the idea of a makhzan–state, see Hammoudi, Abdellah, Master and Disciple: The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); and Tozy, Mohamed, Monarchie et islam politique au maroc (Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Science Politiques, 1999).

5 Slyomovics, Susan, The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco (Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).

6 Hammoudi, Abdellah, Master and Disciple: The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

7 Oren Kosansky, “All Dear unto God: Saints, Pilgrimage and Textual Practice in Jewish Morocco” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2003).

8 Smith, Andrew and Loudiy, Fadoua, “Testing the Red Lines: On the Liberalization of Speech in Morocco,” Human Rights Quarterly 27 (2005): 1069–119; Boum, Aomar, “The Plastic Eye: The Politics of Jewish Representation in Moroccan Museums,” Ethnos 75 (2010): 4977.

9 Waterbury, John, The Commander of the Faithful, the Moroccan Political Elite: A Study in Segmented Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).

10 Jaidi, Moulay Driss, Le cinema au Maroc: Dispositifs institutionnels (Rabat: Assabah, 1991); idem, Histoire du cinéma au maroc, le cinéma colonial (Rabat: Collection al-Majal, 2001); Maillot, Dominique, Le régime administratif du cinéma au maroc (Rabat: Éditions La Porte, 1961); Kevin, Dwyer, Beyond Casablanca: M. A. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004).

11 Hassan al-Sirat, “Mahrajan Tanja Yastadifu Aflaman ʿan Amazigh wa-Yahud al-Maghrib,”, 22 October 2007.

12 Reviews and commentaries related to the films have appeared across the political spectrum, from the Islamic-oriented newspaper Attajdid to liberal-leaning publications such as Tel-Quel and Le Journal Hebdomadaire. One of the main weblogs related to these films is

13 Edwards, Brian, “Marock in Morocco: Reading Moroccan Films in the Age of Circulation,” Journal of North African Studies 12 (2007): 287307; also see Boukhari, K., “Marock: Le film de tous les tabou,” Tel-Quel 223 (2006): 4047; and Houdaifa, H. and Tounassi, F., “Maroc: Le vrai débat,” Le Journal Hebdomadaire 257 (2006): 1825.

14 Patrick Antona, “Interview: Laila Marrakchi and Morjana El Alaoui (Marock),” 15 February 2006,

15 See Bilal al-Talidi, “Qira'a fi al-Khalfiyat al-Qimiyya li-Film ‘Marock,’” Attajdid, 6 May 2006.

16 A characteristic headline linking the two films reads, “Une Cause, deux films” (One Cause, Two Films). See Tel-Quel 301, 2008, (accessed 25 September 2009).

17 See Shafik, Viola, Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class, and Nation (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2007), 2940.

18 Boughedir, Ferid, Un été à la Goulette (halq al-wādī) (Seattle, 1996).

19 For a discussion of the film, see Ohayon, Jacques, “Souvenirs du bled,” in Témoignages: Souvenirs et réflexions sur l'oeuvre de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle, ed. Bensoussan, David and Baz, Edmond El (Montreal: Les Éditions du Lys, 2002), 3738. See also Cohba, Levy, “Notes de voyage dans l'extrême sud marocain,” Les Cahiers de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle 83 (1954): 2632.

20 More recently, independent documentaries have aimed for a more comprehensive scope and balanced portrait. The Routes of Exile: A Moroccan Jewish Odyssey (1981) is a North American production that ambitiously traces the entire expanse of Moroccan Jewish history, from its antique inception to its postcolonial dispersion. Rosow, Eugene, The Routes of Exile: A Moroccan Jewish Odyssey (United States, 1981). Israeli documentary productions have also, from various vantage points, narrated the experiences of Moroccan Jews both before and after their migration to the new Jewish state. Across a range of genres, from musical comedy to magical realism, Israeli features films have attended to the Moroccan-Israeli experience in ways that variously heroize and interrogate the Zionist national project. See Ephraim, Kishon et al. ., Sallah Shabati (Israel, 1964) and Revah, Zeev and Ben, Zehava, Tipat Mazal (Tel Aviv, 1992). For a discussion of these films see Loshitzky, Yosefa, Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2001); and Shohat, Ella, Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1989).

21 Dwyer, Kevin, “Moroccan Cinema and the Promotion of Culture,” Journal of North African Studies 12 (2007): 277–86.

22 Gad El Maleh is known for his one-man shows, including La vie normale (France, 2001) and L'autre c'est moi (France, 2006).

23 El Maleh has been featured in more than twenty-five films. Among these are Allouache, Merzak, Chouchou (France, 2003) and Carmel, Marco, Comme ton père (France, 2007). Most recent is Coco (France, 2009), a critique of Moroccan Jewish bourgeois culture in France.

24 On Jewish novelists, see Dugas, Guy and Geesey, Patricia, “An Unknown Maghrebian Genre: Judeo-Maghrebian Literature of French Expression,” Research in African Literatures 23 (1992): 2132. Muslim novelists include Mustapha al-Bakkali, “al-Yahud Abtal al-Sinima al-Maghribiyya hadhihi al-Ayyam,”–4097–4756-A699–27FB3CD8ED8F.htm (accessed 25 September 2006).

25 See Rachid Nini, “Shuf Tshuf: al-Shasha wa-ma Waraʾaha,” al-Massae, 30 October 2007; also see “Une culture multiple: Rencontre à Tétouan pour la promotion de l'apport des musiciens juifs marocains au patrimoine culturel,” Le Matin, 3 June 2005; “Les Juifs du maroc ont su résister à la tentation de l'amnésie,” Le Matin, 5 February 2008.

26 See “Les Juifs marocain: Patriotisme, fidélité et attachement,” (accessed 25 November 2011); “Les Juifs marocains fêtent la féte du throne au maroc,” (accessed 25 November 2011).

27 Kenbib, Mohamed, Juifs et Musulmans au Maroc 1859–1948: Contribution à l'histoire des relations inter-communautaires en terre d'Islam (Rabat: Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines, 1994); Mohammed Hatimi, “al-Jamaʿat al-Yahudiyya al-Maghribiyya wa-l-Khiyar al-Saʿb bayna Nidaʾ al-Sahyuniyya wa-Rihan al-Maghrib al-Mustaqil 1947–1961” (PhD diss., Université Sidi Muhammad ben Abdallah, Fes, Morocco, 2007).

28 Berdugo, Arlette, Juives et juifs dans le maroc contemporain (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 2002); Identité et Dialogue Group, ed., Juifs du maroc (Grenoble, France: La Pensée Sauvage, 1980); Malka, Victor, La mémoire brisée des juifs du Maroc (Paris: Éditions Entente, 1978).

29 Vairel, Frédéric, “Le maroc des années du plomb: Équité et reconciliation,” Politique Africaine 96 (2004): 181–95; Slyomovics, The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco.

30 Laskier, Michael, Israel and the Maghreb: From Statehood to Oslo (Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 2004).

31 Mounir Siraj, “Par son ‘Adieu Mères,’ Ismail appelle à la tolerance,” Aujourd'hui Le Maroc, 2 December 2008.

32 Errihani, Mohamed, “Language Attitudes and Language Use in Morocco: Effects of Attitudes on ‘Berber’ Language Policy,” Journal of North African Studies 13 (2008): 411–28; idem, “Language Policy in Morocco: Problems and Prospects of Teaching Berber in Morocco,” Journal of North African Studies 11 (2006): 143–54.

33 Asli, Mohamed, À Casablanca les Anges ne Volent Pas (Morocco, 2004). For Berber videos see Merolla, Daniela, “Digital Imagination and ‘The Landscapes of Group Identities’: The Flourishing of Theatre, Video and ‘Amazigh Net’ in the Maghrib and Berber Diaspora,” Journal of North African Studies 7 (2002): 122–31.

34 For further discussion on the relationship between Berbers and Jews, see Wexler, Paul, The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1996), 193; Shokeid, Moshe, “Jewish Existence in a Berber Environment,” in Jewish Societies in the Middle East, ed. Deshen, Schlomo and Zenner, Walter (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982); Schroeter, Daniel, “La découverte des juifs berbères,” in Relations judéo-musulmanes au maroc: perceptions et réalités, ed. Abitbol, Michel (Paris: Éditions Stavit, 1997); Maddy-Weitzman, Bruce, “Morocco's Berbers and Israel,” Middle East Quarterly 18 (2011): 7985. Silverstein, Paul, “Masquerade Politics: Race, Islam, and the Scale of Amazigh Activism in Southeastern Morocco,” Nations and Nationalism 17 (2011): 6584; Boum, Aomar, “Saharan Jewry: History, Memory and Imagined Community,” Journal of North African Studies 16 (2011): 338.

35 Boum, Aomar, “Dancing for the Moroccan State: Ethnic Folk Dances and the Production of National Hybridity,” in North African Mosaic: A Cultural Reappraisal of Ethnic and Religious Minorities, ed. Boudra, Nabil and Krause, Joseph (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 214–37.

36 Carter, Sandra Gayle, What Moroccan Cinema? A Historical and Critical Study, 1956–2006 (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2009), 272–76.

37 Oumnia Guedda, “Cinema: Marrakchi defends ‘Marock,’” Morocco Times, 25 December 2005.

38 These films are not seen with historical suspicion; instead, as Michel de Certeau argues, they pretend to narrate a real history of Jewish–Muslim relations. de Certeau, Michel, Heterologies: Discourse on the Other (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

39 See Gottreich, Emily, The Mellah of Marrakesh: Jewish and Muslim Space in Morocco's Red City (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2007), 7879.

40 Ben-Ami, Issachar, Saint Veneration among the Jews in Morocco (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1998), 67; Vajda, Georges, Un recueil de texts historiques judéo-marocains (Paris: Larose, 1951); Westermarck, Edward, Ritual and Belief in Morocco (London: Macmillan, 1926).

41 It is worth remarking that the film's originally proposed title was Le bar, mon frère juif. The title of the released version emphasizes the film's Jewish themes in generic terms.

42 This idiom of Jews as protected people in the Moroccan polity is reinforced by the film's setting in Boujad, for this is a city in which Jews were famously under the protection of the local Sharifian lineage, the Sherqawa. See de Foucauld, Charles, Reconnaissance au Maroc 1883–1884 (Paris: L'Harmattan, 1998 [1888]). Dale, Eickelman, Moroccan Islam: Tradition and Society in a Pilgrimage Center (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1976).

43 Abitbol, Michel, The Jews of North Africa during the Second World War (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne University Press, 1989); Assaraf, Robert, Mohammed V et les juifs du Maroc à l'époque de Vichy (Paris: Plon, 1997).

44 Kosansky, All Dear unto God.

45 Edwards, Marock in Morocco.

46 Many Moroccan films have used the theme of emigration and displacement. See, for example, Soleil du printemps (Morocco, 1969) and Lalla Chafia (Morocco, 1982).

47 Boum, Aomar, “From ‘Little Jerusalems’ to the Promised Land: Zionism, Moroccan Nationalism and Rural Jewish Emigration,” Journal of North African Studies 15 (2010): 5169.

48 Bensimon, Agnès, Hassan II et les Juifs: Histoire d'une émigration secrète (Paris: Seuil, 1991). Hatimi, “al-Jamaʿat al-Yahudiyya al-Maghribiyya wa-l-Khiyar al-Sa'b.”

49 Laskier, Israel and the Maghreb.

50 Kosansky, Oren, “Tourism, Charity, and Profit: The Movement of Money in Moroccan Jewish Pilgrimage,” Cultural Anthropology 17 (2002): 359400.

51 “Al-Sinima al-Magribiya wa-l-Irtihan al-Hadari,” al-Massae, 12 April 2009.

52 For more discussion on the sinking of the Pisces and the international pressure to grant Moroccan Jews permission to emigrate, see Agnès Bensimon, Hassan II et les Juifs; and Laskier, Michael, “Israeli–Moroccan Relations and the Arab–Israeli Conflict, 1977–2002,” Israel Affairs 10 (2004): 4173.

53 See Carter, What Moroccan Cinema? The pertinent legislation can be found in Bulletin Officiel 1633, 78; Bulletin Officiel 3387, 28 September 1977.

54 On the history of the CCM, see Carter, What Moroccan Cinema?; Jaidi, Le Cinéma au Maroc, 26–31; and Dwyer, Beyond Casablanca.

55 Al-Massae, 24 December 2009.

56 Carter, What Moroccan Cinema?

57 Smith and Loudiy, Testing the Red Lines.

58 Al-Massae, 24 December 2009.

59 Attajdid, 15 May 2006.

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