Wednesday, August 10th | 13 Av 5782

March 4, 2021 2:07 pm

Israel and Morocco Join Forces, Making Both Countries Stronger

avatar by Gilles Berdugo


People walk on a street, in Rabat, Morocco. Photo: Nawalbennani via Wikimedia Commons.

In December 2020, Israel and Morocco forged ties through an agreement of normalization, which was made official when the countries signed a joint declaration, in which Morocco officially communicated its recognition of the State of Israel to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The declaration pledged several reciprocated initiatives, including direct flights, a boost in economic cooperation, and the reopening of liaison offices. Ultimately, the goal is to establish friendly relations between the two countries that are both peaceful and diplomatic.

For over 2,500 years, we have had a thriving Jewish population in Morocco, providing an ancestral link to the land for hundreds of thousands of Jews in Israel. This has led to low-level diplomatic relations and informal ties between the two countries for decades.

Before World War II, Morocco had one of the largest Jewish populations throughout the Muslim world, but when the State of Israel was established in 1948, many decided to emigrate to Israel. By 1967, hundreds of thousands of people had left Morocco to live in Israel and other countries like France and Canada, with only a few thousand Jews remaining.

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Although there had been no official ties between Morocco and Israel for many years, and the relationship between the two countries had fluctuated, it came as no surprise to me, that the normalization agreement received such a positive response.

For decades, the Jewish community here has been a pillar of support for maintaining mutually favorable relations. Despite the mass departure of Jews in the 20th century and conflicts it has experienced, Morocco has always remained a hub for Jewish life in North Africa and the Arab world, accommodating a substantial community with synagogues, museums, and Jewish schools.

In recent years, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has focused strongly on promoting diversity in Moroccan culture, and his projects did not leave the Jewish community behind. As part of this initiative, the king added a reference to how Jewish culture influenced Morocco to our constitution.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the new bilateral agreement is “historic” and shines a peaceful light in the region. King Mohammed VI made a statement from the royal palace, in which he confirmed that he would resume diplomatic relations with minimal delay. The King did, however, communicate the importance of ensuring that the Palestinian people are also considered.

Since it is part of the Arab world, many people assume that Morocco has a problem with antisemitism. However, Jews and non-Jews have been living peacefully, side-by-side, for generations.

The overwhelming response from Moroccan people, including Jewish Moroccans, non-Jewish residents, and officials, has been one of positivity and openness. Officials are talking to media outlets around the world about the excitement of this new relationship. For Moroccans, we are not surprised by our country becoming yet another Arab nation to normalize ties with Israel.

I have no doubt that there will be great tourism benefits to this new relationship as well. Before travel restriction came into play in 2020, over 65,000 Israelis would travel to Morocco each year, even though until recently, there were no direct flights, and it was required to travel as a group.

The people of Morocco are very happy with this new arrangement. I do, of course, agree with the king; we still need to work out the more in-depth aspects, so the Palestinians are not forgotten.

It is impossible to accurately predict the coming events in response to the announcement, but with a huge change like this happening, it will be exciting to see what the future holds.

Gilles Berdugo is an angel investor and international businessman whose family has been an integral part of the Moroccan-Jewish community for generations.

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