Normalisation is an extension of Morocco’s special relationship with Jews
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita was simply stating a historical fact when he declared to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that “Morocco has an important history with the Jewish community … a special history in the Arab world. King Mohammed VI and the previous kings, including King Hassan II, respected Morocco’s Jews and protected them, and relations between Morocco and the Jews were distinguished and cannot be found in any other Arab country.”
Bourita’s statement is confirmed by the historical account reported by the Israeli rabbi of Moroccan origin Shlomo Miara in his book “Kings of Virtue and Mercy,” in which he conveyed to the world the way Morocco has dealt with the Jewish community. He described examples of coexistence between Moroccan Muslims and Jewish citizens that he said were not simply the result of the law of the land, but rather the result of an internal decision stemming from the nature of the Moroccan personality, which embraced the Jewish presence three thousand years ago. Miyara wrote that, like all other Jews of the Maghreb, Moroccan Jews have “their bodies in Israel and their hearts in in Morocco.”
While King Mohammed VI stressed that his country’s position on the Palestinian issue is consistent and has not changed, and that it supports a solution based on two states living side by side in peace and security, observers believe that the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel could open the path to peace due to the symbolic importance of Rabat among Israeli Jews of Moroccan origin and who occupy important decision-making positions in the political, security and strategic ladder in Israel.
Last Thursday, Moroccan King Mohammed VI announced in a statement his country’s intention to facilitate direct flights to and from Morocco for Jews of Moroccan origin and Israeli tourists. This announcement came shortly after the United States announced that an agreement had been reached between Israel and Morocco to normalise relations, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to recently put aside hostility to Israel.
This step was not only in line with the US’s strategy to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but gave a strong impetus to Rabat to highlight its role in achieving peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Jews in the country over the course of successive centuries.
Miyara based his book on research of more than 40,000 documents, including photos, letters and testimonies in Hebrew, French and Arabic that chronicled the role of the Sultans of Morocco in providing protection to the Jews and spreading a culture of of peace and coexistence between them and Muslims in Morocco. The author offered a copy of his book to King Mohammed VI during his visit last January to the House of Memory in the city of Essaouira in Morocco.
The House of Memory is a Jewish museum established as part of a royal initiative to document Jewish heritage and restore historic Jewish cemeteries or neighbourhoods, in line with the provisions of the amended Moroccan constitution of 2011 which attests that the Hebrew component is part of the tributaries of the national identity.
Andre Azoulay, advisor to King Mohammed VI and founding president of the Essaouira-Mogador Association, affirmed that the House of Memory, or Dar al-Dhakira in Arabic, “bears witness to a period in which Islam and Judaism lived side by side in exceptional closeness and harmony. We wanted to investigate our heritage and protect what used to be the manifestations of the art of coexistence within the framework of mutual respect.”
Moroccan Jews and Jews of Moroccan origin regard the Alawite kings of Morocco with great respect, among them the late King Mohammed V, who took a brave stance against the laws of the Vichy government and whose gesture helped save the lives of about 250,000 Moroccan Jews from the persecution and barbarism of Nazi Germany.
French writer Guillaume Jobin affirmed that King Mohammed V always stood firm against the anti-Semitic and racist laws that the Vichy regime, then dominated by the Nazi occupation of France, sought to apply in Morocco during the colonisation era. The late king rejected all forms of discrimination among his subjects, regardless of their creed or religion.
Morocco’s heritage of religious tolerance was reinforced by a partnership agreement concluded last November between the Moroccan Ministry of Education, the Centre for Studies and Research on Hebrew Law and the Essaouira-Mogador Association aimed at promoting values of tolerance and coexistence in Moroccan schools and universities.
Last July, Sam Ben Chetrit, president of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, sent a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Social Equality asking it to stop its attempts to extort money from Morocco under the pretext of “expelling Jews and keeping their property.” Ben Chetrit said that such allegations are incorrect.
An important engine for peace
Many observers believe that Moroccan Jews can play a major role in establishing peace in the Middle East, especially if they are persuaded of this role, like Jews of other Arab countries who have become an important component in Israel, and reunite with the cultures of their countries of origin.
At least 50,000 Jews visited Morocco last year. This number is likely to double several times after the opening of direct flight routes between Morocco and Israel.
Following Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s announcement of an agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the Morocco, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz welcomed the move, saying it was “an opportunity to cement a relationship that has existed for many years, and a rich historical and glorious partnership between the two peoples, which will now be official.”
Although there are only about 4,000 Jews still living in Morocco, 3,000 of whom are in Casablanca alone, Jews of Moroccan descent who have immigrated to other countries such as France, Canada, the United States and Spain are still culturally, spiritually and socially close to Morocco.
There are currently about 1 million Jews of Moroccan origin inside Israel — one out of every nine Israelis, according to some statistics — and they are among the most active in Israel’s political scene. A third of the members of the Israeli government are of Moroccan origin.
Among them is Interior Minister Aryeh Makhlouf Deri, who heads the Shas Party. He was born in the Moroccan city of Meknes. “We, who were born in Morocco, we and the people of Morocco from around the world, have been waiting for this day,” he commented following the agreement announcement.
Meirav Cohen, a member of the Knesset for the Blue and White Party, was born in Jerusalem to Moroccan parents. She serves as minister for social equality in Netanyahu’s government. The current Minister of Transport and Road Safety Miri Regev’s father was an immigrant from Morocco. She wrote on Twitter, “Generations of Moroccan Jews have dreamed of peace with the country where they were born and where our cultural roots are planted.”
*Habib Lassoued is a Tunisian writer.