Cover of The Sultan
The Sultan's Communists
Moroccan Jews and the Politics of Belonging
Alma Rachel Heckman

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November 2020
344 pages.
$65.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503613805

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The Sultan's Communists uncovers the history of Jewish radical involvement in Morocco's national liberation project and examines how Moroccan Jews envisioned themselves participating as citizens in a newly-independent Morocco. Closely following the lives of five prominent Moroccan Jewish Communists (Léon René Sultan, Edmond Amran El Maleh, Abraham Serfaty, Simon Lévy, and Sion Assidon), Alma Rachel Heckman describes how Moroccan Communist Jews fit within the story of mass Jewish exodus from Morocco in the 1950s and '60s, and how they survived oppressive post-independence authoritarian rule under the Moroccan monarchy to ultimately become heroic emblems of state-sponsored Muslim-Jewish tolerance.

The figures at the center of Heckman's narrative stood at the intersection of colonialism, Arab nationalism, and Zionism. Their stories unfolded in a country that, upon independence from France and Spain in 1956, allied itself with the United States (and, more quietly, Israel) during the Cold War, while attempting to claim a place for itself within the fraught politics of the post-independence Arab world. The Sultan's Communists contributes to the growing literature on Jews in the modern Middle East and provides a new history of twentieth-century Jewish Morocco.

About the author

Alma Rachel Heckman is Neufeld-Levin Chair of Holocaust Studies and Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"With meticulousness and fervor, Alma Rachel Heckman offers a unique historical entry to North Africa's Jewish communities. Written from the perspective of a marginal group within the Jewish community of Morocco, The Sultan's Communists provides a new and refreshing understanding of minority politics in colonial and post-colonial societies. A significant contribution to Jewish studies in the Middle East and North Africa."

—Aomar Boum, University of California, Los Angeles

"The Sultan's Communists tells the paradoxical and largely unknown story of a group of Moroccan Jewish militants who identified with Morocco's national liberation movement and remained in Morocco as patriotic citizens after independence when the majority of Jews were emigrating to Israel. Alma Rachel Heckman's riveting account of political activism, imprisonment, torture, exile, and cooptation reveals the possibilities and limitations of Jewish belonging in an Arab Muslim country."

—Daniel J. Schroeter, University of Minnesota

"In this innovative study about Moroccan communist Jews, Alma Rachel Heckman explores radical leftist movements, their struggles against fascism, and their battles for national liberation and social justice. The book masterfully reconstructs the nonsectarian vision these Jewish radicals developed, illustrating how communism served as a patriotic option for Moroccan Jews. A unique and compelling tribute to the activism and heroism of Moroccan radical Jews."

—Orit Bashkin, University of Chicago