In This Review

The Sultan’s Communists: Moroccan Jews and the Politics of Belonging
The Sultan’s Communists: Moroccan Jews and the Politics of Belonging
By Alma Rachel Heckman
Stanford University Press, 2020, 344 pp

Observers often imagine personal political identities in the Middle East as ancient, inevitable, and immutable. But the twentieth-century history of Morocco’s Jewish Communists is a compelling testament to the contingency of such affiliations. Heckman focuses on the careers of five prominent members of the Moroccan Jewish community from the days of the French protectorate, in the early twentieth century, to the end of the reign of Hassan II, in 1999. These men had various allegiances and ties, including Muslim and Spanish in-laws; Algerian-born comrades; and deep attachments to the Jewish community, Moroccan nationalism, and international communism. And over the course of their lives, they dealt with dramatic changes in the political terrain, negotiating the patronage of the royal court, the contempt of French colonial authorities, Vichy anti-Semitism, Zionist campaigning, and monarchical despotism after independence in 1956. Fluid and flexible political affiliations congealed into more fixed, confined identities later in the century. At the end of their lives, after most Moroccan Jews had emigrated to Israel and communism had been all but vanquished, these erstwhile agitators and activists were, as Heckman puts it, “commodified” and ceremoniously trotted out to visitors as putative evidence of Moroccan enlightenment and tolerance.