Moroccan Jews Celebrate Kingdom’s Historic Recognition of Israel
Tiny Jewish community in Morocco hopeful normalization pact will lead to economic, educational shift
The small but devout Jewish community in Morocco rejoiced at the news that official relations will be established between Israel and Morocco.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. Everyone here was thrilled when the announcement was made,” Yosef Israel, rabbi of the Jewish community in Casablanca, told The Media Line.
“This is wonderful. Now with direct flights, it will be easier for Israelis to visit here. Maybe now we’ll have a minyan,” the quorum of 10 Jewish men needed for communal prayer, he joked. “Till today there were plenty of synagogues here, but not enough Jews.”
One of the more ancient and prosperous Jewish communities in the Muslim world, Morocco’s community dates back to 70 CE, and at its peak in the early 20th century numbered a quarter of a million Jews.
Israel’s flurry of diplomatic breakthroughs continued over the weekend as Jerusalem declared it had normalized relations with Morocco and the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.
We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. Everyone here was thrilled when the announcement was made
The agreement with Morocco was first revealed by US President Donald Trump, who on Thursday announced that he had persuaded Rabat to formalize diplomatic ties with Israel and at the same time announced Washington’s recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory.
On Friday it was revealed the administration also had agreed to sell $1 billion worth of arms, including advanced drones, to Rabat, apparently in response to the agreement.
The deal makes Morocco the fourth Arab country in three months to make its under-the-radar relations with the Jewish state official, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. In September, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain cemented their historic newfound friendship in a celebratory White House ceremony.
The latest development was applauded over the weekend by countries such as Egypt, Bahrain and even Oman, with which Israel has yet to establish official relations but that is said to be next in line to join the Abraham Accords.
Bruria Ohaion, a member of the 100-strong Jewish community of Marrakesh, was deeply moved by the announcement.
“We’re very pleased. There is a lot of excitement around, it’s simply wonderful,” she told The Media Line. “For eight months there has been nothing in Marrakesh,” referring to the lack of tourists due to COVID-19. “Now maybe Israelis will come, and we’ll get some tourism. That would be very good,” she said.
“We have a very small community here, but we’re very hopeful about tourism now,” Ohaion explained, noting the devastating toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on one of Morocco’s largest sources of revenue. “My family has visited Israel and we’ll obviously continue to do so,” she said.
The Jewish community in Morocco today numbers approximately 3,000 people, including some 2,500 in Casablanca, the country’s largest city.
“The people of Morocco and the Jewish people had a warm relationship in the modern period,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Thursday following Trump’s announcement.
“The firm foundations we have with Morocco serve as the basis upon which we build this peace. We will reopen liaison offices and then work to quickly establish full diplomatic relations with direct flights. This will be a very warm peace,” he promised.
In what has become a bizarre normal, the agreement was reached without the prior knowledge of Israel’s foreign and defense ministers, who are members of the Blue and White party, a rival to Netanyahu’s Likud.
In an apparent attempt at tit-for-tat, the declaration of Israel’s new relations with Bhutan was made a day later by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, without the prime minister’s prior knowledge.
Foreign Ministry officials said the Bhutan pact was “real peace − no jets, no drones, no American pressure or conditions.”
The newer generation, both in Israel and in Morocco, doesn’t know our history or how many Jews lived in Morocco. Now maybe people will study our heritage
“This is a big event, a great achievement,” George, a resident of Casablanca, told The Media Line. “The fact there will be an [Israeli] ambassador here in Morocco – that makes it official. It’s just moving, to see this happening.”
As for the impact the normalization will have on the local Jewish community, Yosef Israel, the Casablanca rabbi, said he is hopeful.
“The newer generation, both in Israel and in Morocco, doesn’t know our history or how many Jews lived in Morocco. Now maybe people will study our heritage. It’s crucial, and the youth doesn’t know this,” he said.
“There is a vast Jewish history here, ancient synagogues, museums, holy graves. Some of the Moroccan traders have even learned to speak Hebrew,” he added.