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Mediating Migration, Brokering Belonging: Rethinking the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Narratives of Moroccan Jewish Departure, 1943-1983
Between 1862 and 1956, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) in Morocco transformed from a small Franco-Jewish educational institution staffed by foreign-born teachers into a large network of 83 schools and over 33,000 students, administrated mostly by local-born Moroccan Jews. If scholars have treated the AIU solely as an agent of westernization which detached Moroccan Jews from their country of birth, this paper explores how the AIU simultaneously mediated the migration of Moroccan Jews and negotiated their belonging in independent Morocco. Reframing pre-independence MENA-wide migration facilitated by the École Normale Israelite Orientale in Paris, migration surrounding Moroccan independence, and local union activity during waves of heavy departure post-independence, the Moroccan AIU is presented as a local institution serving local needs in a tumultuous period. Before Moroccan independence, the AIU hosted young Moroccan Jews at the École Normale Israelite Orientale in Paris and then facilitated these teachers’ career migrations from Essaouira to Teheran. For some Jews of Moroccan origin born abroad, particularly in Palestine, AIU networks enabled return migration to Morocco. At the same time, the Moroccan AIU’s teachers, unionized since 1943, utilized their employer’s relationship to the French government to extract better conditions at home. Following Morocco’s independence from France (and Spain) in 1956, the countries signed the 1957 “Convention Culturelle”, restructuring Morocco’s educational system. The Convention required teachers to “reintegrate,” meaning be attached to the Moroccan State, the French State, or the French Mission in Morocco. Throughout this period, local Moroccan Jews prompted the AIU to negotiate on behalf of its employees who wished to leave Morocco and “reintegrate” abroad. Others petitioned the AIU to negotiate with the Moroccan government to secure its personnel’s integration into the Moroccan civil service. As Moroccan Jews emigrated in the 1960s and 1970s, the Moroccan AIU facilitated such movement, while increasingly proving itself to be a local institution, utilized by its staff against both the Paris AIU, the French and the Moroccan governments to secure their futures at home. This paper stresses the narration of Moroccan Jewish life alongside emigration. By reframing AIU operations in Morocco, not as a satellite of the metropole, but as a local Moroccan institution, this perspective nuances polarized narratives of departure and the notion that the AIU detached Moroccan Jews from their country of birth. More broadly, this case offers an alternative to lachrymose and neo-lachrymose metanarratives of MENA Jewish departure which essentialize these migrations and suppress migrants’ agency.
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