The year 2020 isn’t over yet and while many people, personally and professionally, feel it is the worst year ever in their lifetime, there are increasingly positives happening in the Jewish world. If you love Israel, you will love the news of last Thursday, that Morocco agreed to normalize relations with Israel, restoring relations that were severed by Morocco in 2000 and expanding on these (though they were never totally negated.)
To get a feel for what this means, CAEF offers two personal views and invites you to send in comments.
The first aricle is from one of the Jewish community’s newest friends, Walid Tamtam, a Canadian born student of Moroccan heritage, who lives in Ottawa and attends the University of Toronto. Walid was so excited about the news that he contacted this author on Erev Chanukah to share his enthusiasm and generously offered to immediately write about it.
To bring another perspective, I spoke with Simon Keslassy, President of Communaute Juive Marocaine de Toronto, the Community of Moroccan Jews of Toronto. Keslassy is the recipient of the National Award of Merit of the Kingdom of Morocco which was bestowed on him by the late King Hassan II, whose father, King Mohammed V, as you’ll read below. has a special place in Jewish history. As President of CJMT, Simon has been going to Morocco every July to celebrate Morocco Day and the anniversary of King Mohammed’s ascendancy to the throne in 1999.
Both Walid and Simon were asked to reflect on the past relationship of Jews to Morocco, how they anticipate this newly announced treaty changes things, who benefits, and what does it portend for other Middle East relationships?
Since most Ashkenazi Jews are not familiar with the history of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, nor their forced exile from countries where Jews had lived for thousands of years, it is important to note that in recent years the government of Israel established an annual commemorative event on November 30th to acknowledge the destruction of Jewish life in Arab and Muslim countries in the region. It is important to understand that Jewish life in Morocco did not undergo the same tortuous, unjust, eradication. Jews were not expelled, nor stripped of their citizenship, property or valuables, and were always allowed to return and to visit.
The Moroccan Jews have retained an affection for their historic home, despite their having been reduced from a population of over 250,000 to fewer than 5,000, but not due to expulsion.
A Moroccan Canadian’s Response to the Morocco-Israel Deal
by Walid Tamtam
On Thursday, December 10th, President Trump of the United States announced via Twitter that Morocco and Israel are set to establish direct diplomatic ties once more in a new bid for normalization, making Morocco the fourth Arab League nation to normalize with Israel in a matter of months. Morocco and Israel once had liaison offices that were forced to close in 2000 because of the escalated tensions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regarding Israel during the Gaza war.
My reaction is that this is a historic breakthrough and the jackpot prize, bigger than anything else in the whole Middle East and North Africa, given past relations and history between these two amazing nations. Morocco unlike any other country in the region has a rich and celebrated Jewish history that is seeing more light by the day and will continue to do so with such a great deal in place. In a region that has been historically plagued with antisemitism it is nice to see Moroccan philo-Semitism prevail, and a tangible achievement at the international relations level to bridge the respectives population and their interests. I am so delighted to see this wonderful deal that will surely benefit all parties involved, and I expect I look to continue riding the roller coaster of peace in the region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and US Ambassador David Friedman at the Western Wall on December 10, 2020, the first night of Hanukkah. Netanyahu hailed the “light” of US President Donald Trump’s announcement that Morocco and Israel are to establish full relations, issued hours earlier. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Once upon a time, there were between 295,000 to 350,000 Jews in Morocco at its peak period. This history being over 2000 years old, the first Moroccan Jews were believed to have migrated from the time of the destruction of the first temple. The population was mixed over the generations between the Mizrachis who came in many waves and the Sephardis who came to Morocco fleeing persecution in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Today there around 3,000 Jews in Morocco, people who chose to live there in retirement, preserve their presence, and for many other passionate projects that bring people together.
For a country with significant religious dominance from Islam, there is quite a tone regarding coexistence that we do not see in any other populations in the Islamic world, unfortunately, but it begs the question of why Morocco is how it is. The ancient history of Jews in Morocco had solidified their influence and their influence had always been for the better. The nations that treated Jews better in a region of many struggles, Tunisia and Morocco, have a much better reality today because of it. A moral compass in many other nations is the status of their minorities; the Jews were a minority everywhere they were in the world until returning to their ancestral homeland, Israel.
King Mohammed the 5th, the Grand Father of the Current King, was famous for his rejection of the French Vichy Government and their anti-Semitic laws which they wished to implement in Morocco. By way of a famous proclamation, “there are no Jews in Morocco, there are only Moroccan citizens,” Mohammed the 5th actions ensured that there was no systematic separation of his Jewish citizens for the worse, rather he ensured that Jewish quarters “Mellahs” were closer to Royal property in order to offer protection from any hostility whatsoever. There certainly were tragic events, such as the Algerian led Anti-Jewish riots in the bordering Morocco city of Oujda that took the lives of 43 Jews in 1948, the year of Israel's creation. This event speaks to me personally as a Moroccan; it always confirms for me that Anti-Zionism has always, and will always be Antisemitism.
File: Morocco's Mohammed V, wearing white robes, walking with the country's Grand Vizier Si Mohammed El Mokri after he placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Arc De Triomphe during a visit to Paris, France around July 4, 1930. (AP Photo)
Since the 1960s and to this day Rabat and Jerusalem have had productive relations, from the 48 million dollar IAI Heron Drone Arms deal in 2018, to King Hassan the second and his intelligence aid to Israel providing Arab League leadership’s taped recordings exposing Egypt and Jordan’s flawed offense strategy that was to unfold in the 1967 6-day-war. Another significant example of cooperation was during the November 1961 Mossad Operation Yachin that saw 97,000 Moroccan Jews migrate to Israel as a proactive measure to avoid further threats against Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews in the MENA region that were happening in every quarter. The rapid migration meant Mossad had to financially compensate the Kingdom of Morocco as part of the collaboration, as the Jews of Morocco brought so much to it economically, though a minority, they were viewed as a significant and productive population.