It wasn’t until he attended secondary school in Marrakesh that Moroccan native, Aomar Boum met a Jewish person. Though as recently as the 1980s nearly a quarter of a million Jews called Morocco home, the Moroccan Jewish community today hovers just under 4,000 and most young adult Moroccans of Boum’s generation glean what they know of Jewish culture and people from international media.
Now an assistant professor and ethnographer, Boum returned to Morocco to better understand the evolution of public perceptions of Jewish people, and how the vacuum left from the staggering decline of Moroccan Jews has precipitated shifts in public opinion of non-Jewish Moroccans.
Boum’s ethnographic study, Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco engages four generations of Moroccans: the great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and young adults. In the course of his research Boum found that older generations—those for whom Jewish people were familiar neighbors, merchants, and community members—held nuanced opinions about Jews in general, views informed by their own memories.
Expecting some transmission of this familiar knowledge from the older generations to the younger, Boum was surprised to observe instead a rigid stratification of opinion in Moroccan households. The younger generations, more focused on a broader political relationship between Jews and Muslims and informed by media representations, were more likely to subscribe to anti-Semitic discourses, espousing stereotypes about Jewish monopolies on power and control.
In an interview with Tablet Magazine Boum notes
Whether we call them misinformed thoughts or not, these are opinions that are out there and we have to look at them, we have to study them, we have to break them down and explain why people think of them that way.
These discourses, prevalent in other Middle Eastern and North African countries have been normalized in Morocco, Boum concludes, since the massive emigration of the Moroccan Jewish community.
In this podcast (via Tablet Magazine) Boum discusses his research at greater length—the opinions he encountered, the role of Israel, and implications for the region: