Israel to Declassify Archives on Racist Absorption of Moroccan Jewish Immigrants

The initiative follows the broadcast of a film documenting the systematic discrimination and racism suffered by Jews who came to Israel from Morocco in the early days of the state

Ofer Aderet
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Moroccan immigrants arrive at the Haifa port, 1954.
Moroccan immigrants arrive at the Haifa port, 1954.Credit: Fritz Cohen/GPO
Ofer Aderet

Israel announced on Tuesday that it will work to make available archival material that documents the absorption of Moroccan Jews, which has been sealed or inaccessible to the general public until now.

The move was prompted by the television broadcast of “The Ancestral Sin,” a documentary film by David Deri chronicling the discrimination and racism that Moroccan immigrants suffered at the hands of the Israeli establishment in the 1950s.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that the government will tackle two initiatives connected to the materials.

Netanyahu said that documents kept in the Zionist Archives from that period will be digitized and posted online. A cabinet resolution will be submitted to allocate funding for this task. He said that following the broadcast of the film, which featured documents from the archives, a World Zionist Organization examination discovered that the material isn’t classified, but hasn’t been scanned and is therefore inaccessible to most people. “That’s why I made a decision; they will be accessible to any person in Israel, to any person in the world. Totally accessible,” Netanyahu said.

At the same time, Shaked said that documents in other archives relating to the issue are also not accessible to the public. She referred specifically to the police archives, which are kept in the Israel State Archives, and to which the public has very limited access. “I will suggest to the cabinet that the documents be reviewed and approved for perusal under the auspices of the State Archives,” she said.

In his remarks, Netanyahu referred to the previous major digitization project that the State Archives conducted at the behest of the cabinet – that of documents connected to the disappearance of Yemenite children in the early years of the state. As part of that project, which was concluded in 2016, hundreds of thousands of documents relating to that affair that had previously been hidden from the public were uploaded to the internet. “What we did in the case of the Yemenite children we will with this, too,” said the prime minister.

In an apparent signal that it intends to cooperate with the initiative, the Israel State Archives tweeted on Tuesday that it had already started to locate the relevant materials. The tweet included a document from a February 1957 cabinet meeting in which Labor Minister Mordechai Namir discusses the need to move immigrants from Arab countries out of transit camps, but cites a “problem”: “The housing projects meant for immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa were given to ‘white’ immigrants.”