'Israel paid $250 per Jew from Morocco'

2001-06-25 23:02

Rabat - Israel is said to have paid Morocco $250 per head to encourage the exodus of Jews to Israel in the years that followed the North African country's independence from France in 1956, a British author said.

Between 1948 and 1963, Israeli sources said that 262 000 Moroccan Jews emigrated to the "Promised Land"," Stephen Hughes, a former Reuters correspondent, said in his book Morocco under King Hassan.

"Jews began emigrating to Israel in the last years of the protectorate and the movement accelerated after independence in 1956, partly because of nasty anti-Semitism," Hughes said.

Quoting Israeli sources, the author said a former education minister of the old guard Istiqlal party negotiated a deal with agents of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad "to allow immigration to continue covertly".

"It was said the minister was given $500 000 in cash at a Geneva hotel in the autumn of 1961 and it was agreed the government would also be paid $250 for each Jew who left the country," he said.

The cash was handed over by Mossad agent Alex Gattmon, then the Israeli station chief in Casablanca, posing as a British businessman named George Sellers while organising the Jews' exodus.

Stimulated at the time by what Hughes called "Zionist propaganda", emigration to Israel was the result of political uncertainties just before and after Morocco's independence.

"Thousands more left for Europe and the Americas. In the first few years after independence, the Istiqlal Party opposed emigration saying it strengthened the 'Zionist enemy'," he said.

When the late King Hassan ascended the throne in 1961, and the Istiqlal party left the government, thousands more Jews left openly on collective passports.

"A consequence was that ancient communities in the Berber country on the edge of the desert disappeared almost completely. They went to settle Israel's Negev desert," the author added.

In 1952, the Jewish community in Morocco was estimated at 275 000. It numbers fewer than 6 000 now, most of them living in the large cities of Casablanca, Rabat and Marrakesh.