International Intrigue: HIAS in Morocco

Found in the files of Executive Vice President James Rice are these reports of meetings in late 1961 with Colonel Mohamed Ofkir, a high-ranking official in the government of King Hassan II notorious for his extremely harsh dealings with dissidents and political enemies.

It wasn’t immediately clear to us the author of this report. Most likely it was Gaynor I. Jacobson, then director of operations in Europe and North Africa, though it could have been Rice, himself, but it’s not noted explicitly.

The meetings concern HIAS’s interest in assisting Moroccan Jews who wanted to leave the country, since prohibitions on emigration to Israel had recently been lifted. Ofkir is initially open to the program but becomes critical after the program is underway.

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The first page of the report details the day leading up to the meeting with Colonel Ofkir in November at the Sûreté Nationale building in Rabat.

Raphael Spanien (Deputy Director of the HIAS branch in Paris covering Europe and North Africa) and the author arrive around noon. Colonel Ofkir is indisposed, so they meet with his assistant, a “Mr. H.” whose true identity we haven’t been able to confirm. Mr. H. drives Spanien, the author, and Habib Tayeb, Commissaire Adjoint for Tangiers, to lunch in his car. The car had been the favorite car of King Mohammed V and had been given to Mr. H. by King Hassan II after Mohammed V, his father, had died. The author writes that Mr. H. “was one of the late king’s closest collaborators, and in whom he had the utmost confidence,” which seems to suggest that Mr. H. is something more than a mere ‘assistant’ to the colonel.

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Mr. H. is described as “keeping the pulse of the country and the throats of his opponents” and “prides himself on having a secret dossier on every important personality which assures their cooperation or forces their silence.”

After lunch, Mr. H refers to an incident that occurred in Casablanca where “Jews were attacked on account of their attire and because they did not demonstrate suitable warmth for their august guest, Colonel [Gamal Abdel] Nasser [President of Egypt],” of which Mohamed V declared his innocence and claimed that “suitable measures had been taken” on those assumed to be responsible.

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Finally at 5:00 PM, the HIAS reps meet with Ofkir; the meeting is over by 5:45 PM.

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Colonel Ofkir tells the members of HIAS that he is interested in “the successful start and continuation” of HIAS’s work in Morocco, emphasizing the dangers to himself and to HIAS should word get out about his involvement in helping Jews emigrate, which the “internal opposition” would “be inclined to exploit […] to the detriment of his majesty [Hassan II].”

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After the meeting, Mr. H. mentioned his children studying in Paris and Switzerland to whom he has trouble sending money, due to Morocco’s currency restrictions. He asks the members of HIAS if they would be willing to exchange his Moroccan currency and deliver the corresponding amount in francs to his son, and Spanien and the author “indicated that [they] would be pleased to be of assistance.”

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That December, there was another meeting with Colonel Ofkir in Casablanca, along with the governor of Casablanca, Colonel Driss. Again, it is not clear who the author of this report is, but it seems this time he went alone to the meeting.

In the month and a half since the very cordial and promising meeting with Ofkir in Rabat, HIAS’s work helping Jews exit Morocco apparently didn’t proceed with sufficient discretion. Okfir says that the emigration has taken on the dimension of an “exodus” and calls for an end to the HIAS program.

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The HIAS official notes his responses to the Colonels’ list of issues, hoping to come to some further agreement, but there is no more information in the file if such an agreement came to pass.

A decade later, Ofkir, then appointed minister of defense, attempted to assassinate King Hassan II and take control of Morocco. He was most likely executed by royal forces, and his family was sent to a secret detention camp in the desert for twenty years.

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