Morocco a friend of Israel, a friend of its people and a friend of peace

November 7, 2021 by Features Desk
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The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council hosted, as its latest webinar guest, Ambassador Karim Medrek, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Australia, who spoke about “Morocco, Israel and the Jewish World: a new era of relations”.

Ambassador Karim Medrek

He stated that there has always been peaceful co-existence between the Jewish and Islamic communities in Morocco, with a bond unique in the Arab world. In the 17th century, he noted, the port of Essaouira became the only city in a Muslim land to ever have a Jewish majority and had 35 synagogues. In the 1940s, Morocco’s Jewish population of 250,000 was eight percent of the country’s total population.

Morocco, he said, is characterised by cultural, ethnic and religious pluralism, and one national identity. During World War II, the late King Mohammed V had confronted Vichy French efforts to apply Vichy laws to Moroccan Jews, and the Jewish community has always been a full part of the Moroccan community.

He added that there have been steps unique in the Arab world to safeguard Morocco’s Jewish history and role in the community, and the Constitution adopted in 2011 stipulates that “the Hebraic component is part of the cultural and historical heritage of Morocco.”

Morocco, he said, has always considered its diversity to be a real asset, and the Jewish community has always been involved in the country’s economic activity, including all the traditional industries, and there has always been a Jewish minister in Moroccan governments.

He said Moroccan Jews in other countries always maintain a strong attachment to their native land and often travel back to Morocco. Former King Hassan II always said Morocco never loses its Jewish citizens, but gains ambassadors and Ambassador Medrek added that without Moroccan Jews in Israel, the ties between Morocco and Israel would not have had such a solid foundation.

He added that at least 50,000 tourists from Israel visit Morocco each year. Morocco’s Jewish community is now the largest in the region and has all the structures necessary for its wellbeing, including synagogues, tribunals and the right to observe its own system of family law. The government has also paid for the restoration and renovation of more than 100 Jewish holy sites and cemeteries and 20 synagogues.

The history of Morocco’s Jews, he said, has been a compulsory subject at school since 2000, museums preserve Jewish cultural history and many places host Jewish cultural programs, so it was no surprise that Moroccan-Israeli relations were re-established because Moroccan Jews in Israel still have strong feelings for Morocco.

He said what happened between Morocco and Israel last year shouldn’t be called normalisation, because these relations never stopped, and the people to people relations always existed.

He said it was therefore a little different to the Abraham Accords. The main visionary and architect for the resumption of official relations was His Majesty King Mohammed VI, who stated it was time to link the past to the present and establish new relations with Israel, partly because of the link he maintained to the Jewish community.

It was, Ambassador Medrek added, an opportunity to consolidate the relationship that had existed for many years, and there was real enthusiasm on both sides, with genuine joy in Moroccan media and social media and on the streets.

He expects the improved relations will serve prosperity for both Morocco and Israel, opening a real partnership for North Africa with the Indo-Pacific through the Middle East, and establishing a new paradigm for peace in the Middle East. It will also contribute to the revival of trade between Israel and Morocco, with four bilateral agreements having already been signed, dealing with direct flights, water, financial systems and visa waivers.

Moreover, the two countries have also agreed on other areas of economic cooperation, such as reducing barriers to investment, exchanging information on financial regulation, preventing terrorism financing and money-laundering and working on benefits for the private sectors.

He thinks sectors such as research and development, agriculture, water management, renewable energy, aeronautics, modern technology, start-up incubation, innovation and tourism are the key areas where Morocco would like to maintain a strong partnership with Israel.

Moroccan exports to Israel, and to other regions through Israel , he said, could include fertiliser, textiles and cars. Israeli exports to Morocco this year have been $26.5 million, and it is estimated that will increase to $500 million a year.

As the second-largest investor in Africa, he added, Morocco could help Israel invest in Africa, and Israel’s private sector should regard Morocco as a gateway to Africa, and use Moroccan know-how when approaching African investment. He added that his embassy and the Israeli embassy in Canberra have started working together to explore business opportunities in Australia and New Zealand. Morocco, he said, is a very credible partner internationally, and as it is close to both Israel and the Palestinians. He hopes that the “new dynamic really can contribute to the efforts already made on both sides to promote genuine peace which will preserve hopefully the security and the stability of Israel and its people, but also to allow Palestinians to assert their rights.”

He added that the Middle East faces daunting challenges to rebuild itself, but the new dynamic represents a great opportunity to leave conflict behind. Morocco has in the past played a leading role in peace-making between Israel and the Palestinians, and is ready “to contribute to any constructive peace efforts with a view to reach a just and lasting and equitable solution to the Middle East conflict and which allow Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace.”

He said Morocco hopes that “these relations will serve as a model and will give impetus among others to favour dialogue and respect while working for a stable, secure, prosperous Middle East for the future generations”. Morocco, he said, “is a friend of Israel, is a friend of its people, is a friend of peace.”

He said Morocco has excellent relations with Australia, with many common values, and the two countries have worked together in many international fora. Australia has the credibility, he said, to contribute to Middle East peace.

He believes the improved relations between Israel and Morocco will bring more confidence that obstacles can be removed and peace is possible and hopes that other countries will follow the path of Morocco, and join the Abraham Accords. All Middle East countries, he said, should learn from history that only dialogue, co-existence and mutual respect will prevail.

He concluded that Morocco believes that the new era of relations with the Abraham Accords “is set to be an example of co-existence and fruitful development for the benefit of the Middle East and beyond.”

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