Envoy to Morocco: ‘cultural relations will bring people together’

Moroccan are eager to visit Israel, says Israel’s newly-installed ambassador David Govrin. The country contrasts with Egypt, for instance,  where Nasserists and Islamists are a powerful obstacle to peace, he tells Jewish Insider:

Ambassador David Govrin: served in Egypt

A veteran of Israel’s foreign service and a fluent Arabic speaker, Govrin understands the difference between a peace that is warm over one that is not. A former ambassador to Egypt, from 2016 to 2019 – Govrin also served as first secretary in Cairo between 1994-1997 – he said Israel’s relations with the two Arab states differ wildly.

“One has to bear in mind that Israel and Egypt have engaged in five wars, this is not the same for Israel and Morocco,” Govrin began, highlighting that powerful segments in Egyptian society – the Nasserists and the Islamists – have remained an obstacle to Egypt’s ability to develop better personal ties with Israel.

“There are also no cultural relations between Israel and Egypt,” he continued. “This is unfortunate because it is cultural relations that really bring people together.”

During his short time in Morocco, Govrin has focused on building those cultural and people-to-people relationships. From a young leaders’ seminar last month in Marrakesh to a Jewish women’s festival in the Mediterranean city of Tangiers to mark International Women’s Day, he said it has been easy.

“Before I arrived, my expectations were at a certain level,” Govrin admitted. “After arriving, however, I noticed that the reality was way beyond that. There’s so much enthusiasm and the people here are very excited and eager to visit Israel.”

Indeed, the new consular section, which did not exist before Govrin’s arrival, has received endless inquiries and requests from Moroccans wanting to visit Israel. Israeli airlines began direct flights to Morocco last summer, and the first Moroccan airline held its inaugural flight from Casablanca just over a week ago.

What sets Morocco apart from other Arab states, Govrin explained, is that “the Moroccan people fully understand the importance of the peace with Israel” and feel connected to Jews because of the community’s long presence in the country.

“They have a positive and forthcoming approach to Jews because the Jews were an integral part of Moroccan society, history and heritage for many centuries,” he continued. “This has helped us to push the relationship forward.”

Jews have had a permanent presence in Morocco for more than 2,000 years and with the arrival of Jews from Spain and Portugal – following their expulsion in 1492 – their impact in the country grew even further. Today, while the community has shrunk from an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 in the mid-20th century to only about 2,000 – most fleeing following waves of antisemitism after Israel’s creation –  those still living in the country remain openly and actively Jewish.

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