Tag: Morocco/Israel

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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Morocco to fund restoration of hundreds of Jewish sites

Morocco's King Mohammed vows to push for Israeli-Palestinian talks
King Mohamed VI

The press may think it is a new development, but the decision to restore hundreds of Jewish sites, as flagged up by Israel Hayom,  has been ongoing since at least 2013. What’s not to like in this initiative, which cements the Jewish component in Moroccan heritage? But restoration cannot conceal the reality, which is that the synagogues will be empty buildings without Jews.

According to Arab media reports, the move is part of the rapprochement between Rabat and Jerusalem, which resumed their diplomatic relations earlier this year as part of the Abraham Accords.

The plan is expected to see the renovation of hundreds of synagogues, cemeteries, and Jewish heritage sites in several cities in Morocco, among them the Jewish cemetery in the city of Fes, which includes 13,000 graves.

The monarch has also reportedly decided to reinstate the original names of some of the country’s Jewish neighborhoods.

Several Jewish museums have already been opened in Morocco, alongside other initiatives seeking to cater to the growing interest in preserving Moroccan Jewish heritage.

Israel welcomed King Mohammed’s initiative, which comes as the two countries mark the first anniversary of their newfound alliance.

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Why is the Moroccan King funding Jewish sites?

Prayer for IDF heard in Moroccan synagogue

For the first time, the prayer for the Israel Defence Forces was heard in a synagogue in Rabat, in the presence of IDF soldiers from Israel, some of whom had Moroccan roots.  Led by defence minister Benny Gantz, the IDF representatives  were warmly welcomed  in Morocco, which is hoping for greater cooperation with Israel in intelligence and know-how. The Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Ariel):

Cantor Gabriel Deri recites prayers during a visit by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to the Talmud Torah synagogue in Rabat on November 25, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defence minister Benny Gantz and his IDF listen to Cantor Gabriel Deri recite prayers in a Rabat synagogue

RABAT, Morocco — It is not every day that you hear the prayer for the well-being of Israel Defense Forces soldiers in an Arab country, especially not when there are IDF soldiers in uniform standing alongside you.

But so it was on Thursday when Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the Talmud Torah synagogue in Rabat, a once larger community that is now down to double-digits, unable to regularly put together the 10-man quorum needed to hold Orthodox prayers.

As it happens, two of the three IDF soldiers in uniform had Moroccan roots, as did a Knesset member who was part of the delegation, Shas’s Ya’akov Margi, who was born in Rabat, and so were a number of other people on the trip, including some journalists.

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Jewish COVID remains transferred from Morocco

It is a measure of how relations have improved between Morocco and  Israel  that the transfer of the bodies of seven Jews who died of coronavirus  could be arranged for reburial in Israel. The virus devastated the community, which accounted for 10 percent of deaths during the first month. JTA reports:

Popular musician Marcello Botbol, who died of coronavirus in Morocco

JTA — The bodies of seven Moroccan-Jewish COVID-19 fatalities were flown to Israel last week after being interred in a Casablanca Jewish cemetery more than a year ago.

The transfer was arranged by ZAKA, an Israeli volunteer rescue and recovery organization which focuses on ensuring Jewish burial rites for victims of terror and natural disasters, as well as the Casablanca Chevra Kadisha, a local Jewish burial society.

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Moroccan-Israeli stabbed to death in Tangiers

 Update: Times of Israel says that the victim was giving food to a homeless person when he was stabbed. The authorities say the assassin’s motive is ‘ not clear’.
A Moroccan-Israeli was stabbed to death in the city of Tangiers  on 25 August 2021. Marco Rebibo, 54,  had decided to leave Israel and re-settle in Morocco where he opened a kosher restaurant.
Marco Rebibo: moved to Morocco from Israel

 

The stabbing took place at Rebibo’s restaurant, the Cercle de l’Alliance,  in Tangiers.  According to Dernières infos d’Algerie  the 36-year-old assassin was sporting a Palestinian flag. He  was arrested by the Moroccan security forces, and an inquiry into the murder opened.
An ambulance arriving at the scene of the murder
The incident comes as an embarrassment to Morocco, which has recently signed the Abraham Accords with Israel. It shows that normalisation with Israel is a matter of controversy. The Moroccan press has not specified the victim’s Israeli nationality, stating only that he was Jewish. According to the Algerian medium DIA,  the murder has created a climate of fear among Jewish hotel and restaurant owners. The police has reinforced security around Jewish sites.

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