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 a Canadian born friend of Moroccan heritage, whose name is withheld at his request. 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 men 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
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.
King Hassan II of Morocco, right, confers with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, second from left, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, left , at the Skhirat Royal Palace in Rabat., Morocco, September 14, 1993. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
It is expected that Morocco will fall into a similar pattern of diplomatic accomplishments as the 3 other Arab League nations have done in the Abraham Accords; however, unlike any country in the region, the human bridge, is large, alive, and has been around for so long, there is no doubt to be a huge reaction among many populations. Israel contains the second largest Moroccan diaspora in the world, second to only France where tens of thousands of Moroccan Jews migrated as well. Morocco has gained much from this deal, praise from Egypt, Oman, and the UAE, recognition of Moroccan claims to Western Sahara by the United States, and we will no doubt see many more announcements on economic empowerment measures bilaterally between Israel and Morocco as the days go by.
Through understanding and relationships, that Moroccan Arabs have had and will have with Moroccan Jews, they will be able to transform the way other Arabs see Israel, sometimes very drastically like in my case, enough to see the humanity and rightful narrative of the Jewish people and their connection to the land of Israel. This is without a doubt something that cannot be emulated anywhere else and must be explored to the fullest potential as the King has now pulled the nation into a new generation of peace. It is up to the Moroccan people to be able to engage with Israel in a much more transparent matter. I look forward to a bright future between Rabat and Jerusalem, one where peace is made, cultures are celebrated, and relationships between people are restored and explored as we head into an era better than anything we have seen before.
An Interview with Simon Keslassy
The Communuate Juive Marocaine de Toronto was established in 2012 and represents the 18,000 Jews of Moroccan origin in Greater Toronto. Simon advised there are 42,000 Moroccans across Canada and the majority arrived between 1956-67. They came for better economic, educational and business opportunities, and to avoid some of the internal political upheaval in Morocco, but conflicts in that country were not directed at the Jews.
As noted above King Mohammed V, grandfather of the current King Mohammed VI, protected his Jewish citizens and to this day, they are able to retain their citizenship, pensions and property. Many, from Israel where the majority migrated, as well as from Western countries, continued to have close connections with Morocco and to regulary vacation there. But as Simon noted, this new normalizatoin agreement is a “Big Deal!” He offered that he felt it was coming for some time and people just needed patience, noting that there has been a special relationship for decades between Morocco and Israel, one that might even be described as the stuff of spy thrillers as Morocco provided information to Israel that assisted during the 6 day war of 1967. Close relations ended in 2000 with the closing of a Moroccan diplomatic office in Israel, supposedly due to the King’s defensive position vis a vis the Palestinian Arabs.
Business between the two countries has been worth about $150m a year but Keslassy thinks it will quickly triple now, as there will be direct flights between Tel Aviv and Rabat. He also noted the drive for this initiative among Gulf States is very much self-interest, deterring confict with Iran, which leads him to suggest that Saudi Arabia will be the next country to offer a normalization agreement with Israel.
When asked how much the recognition by the US of Morocco’s claim on the Western Sahara, clinched the deal, Keslassy commented that he thought it less important than all the positives that are offered by Israel such as exchanges in technology, medicine, and other expertise. He pointed out that the Minster of External Affairs for Morocco had publicly stated that was not the rational, but we can speculate that maybe it was the “clincher?”
In response to my query as to what is next? “Will the King broker any new deals for Israel with othe Arab countries?”, Keslassy suggested that the King is very pro-Palestinian and sees himself as the broker of peace between Israel and the PLO/PA and that peace will come. He has had his own private discussions with members of the government of Morocco and like his fellows, Keslassy holds out great affection for both his country of origin and the Jewish state of Israel.
Good News keeps coming—with almost 3 more weeks in 2020!
Besides expecting a Coronavirus vaccine, Yay!, we celebrate the newest announcement about Israel’s expanding relationships among the countries of the world. In India, Israel and the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan signed an agreement on Saturday, December 12th, to establish full diplomatic ties.
The countries agreed to formulate a joint work plan in the areas of water management, agriculture, healthcare and other areas.
Ron Malka, the Israeli Ambassador to India, called the agreement a “historic day” for his country.“This agreement will open up many more opportunities for cooperation for the benefit of both our peoples,” Malka said on Twitter.
The remote Kingdom of Bhutan, a country of less than a million people, is wedged between giant neighbours China and India. It is famous for its Gross National Happiness index, benchmarking itself on happiness instead of economic growth.Israel scores high on the happiness index, so already these two peoples share much.