Moroccan Jews Lose Court Battle Over Formal Recognition as Holocaust Survivors

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Moroccan immigrants arriving in Haifa's port, 1954.
Moroccan immigrants arriving in Haifa's port, 1954.Credit: Fritz Cohen/GPO
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit by Moroccan immigrants to Israel asking that they be recognized as Holocaust victims and granted compensation as required under Israeli law.

The Haifa District Court had previously rejected their suit, and the plaintiffs sought to appeal. The Supreme Court ended the matter by announcing Thursday that it would not hear the appeal.

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The justices said they came to this decision because the deprivation of liberty suffered by Moroccan Jews during World War II didn’t meet the criteria set by the law on compensating victims of Nazi persecution.

Attorney David Yadid, who represented the plaintiffs, said that despite the court’s ruling, he felt “the 10-year legal battle for recognition of the suffering of Moroccan Jews under the Nazi occupation wasn’t in vain” because it did result in the state recognizing this suffering and agreeing to grant them partial compensation.

The ruling described the suffering of Moroccan Jews under France’s Nazi-aligned Vichy government, which controlled Morocco at the time and pressured the Moroccan authorities to implement antisemitic legislation. Morocco responded by issuing orders that restricted Jews’ ability to acquire housing, education and employment, it noted.

The suit, which was filed against the Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, had argued that these restrictions “gave legitimacy to harming Moroccan Jews” and resulted in “extreme tension and fear,” and therefore deserve recognition under the law.

Justices Neal Hendel, David Mintz, and Yosef Elron agreed that Moroccan Jews suffered antisemitic abuse from the authorities. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs don’t qualify for compensation under the law since the harm they suffered “consisted mainly of a reduced ability to integrate into the job market and acquire an education outside the Jewish community, alongside undermining some community members’ ability to choose their place of residence. These restrictions, which weren’t imposed in the territory of the German Reich but on Moroccan soil, don’t meet the demands of the law.”

Moreover, the ruling said, the Moroccan authorities made their own decisions separately from the main Vichy government, and the Germans had little influence over them. In fact, Morocco rejected some of the Germans’ requests, thereby disproving the petition’s claim that the Vichy government in Morocco was actually worse than the Nazis.

As for the plaintiffs’ subjective experience of fear and tension, the ruling said they needed to show objective evidence that this fear was warranted. The justices accepted the lower court’s finding that the evidence offered was unpersuasive, just as they accepted its finding that the restrictions imposed did not amount to “deprivation of freedom.”

As Yadid noted, the plaintiffs’ battle wasn’t completely without fruit. In 2015, the treasury decided to grant financial benefits to survivors from Morocco and Algeria on account of the restrictions they suffered. This consisted mainly of an annual grant of 4,000 shekels ($1,240). And three years later, the Claims Conference decided to give them one-time grants of 2,500 euros.

Holocaust survivors returning to Libya by train.Credit: Orr Shalom Center/Yad Vashem

In summary, the justices wrote that "the role of the historian is separate from that of the court, and that's a good thing.

"The test of history has many participants, and is subject to additions and updates which are inappropriate for a concrete legal procedure. The law, on the other hand, works according to precise rules, with all the pros and cons that that entails."

Nevertheless, Yadid accused the treasury of “discriminating between victims of the Nazi regime out of budgetary considerations,” pointing out that the Jews of Libya and Tunisia had been recognized as victims of Nazi persecution. He added that he will consider asking the court to rehear the issue with an expanded panel of justices.

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