Hours before the first night of Chanukah, Morocco became the fourth recent Arab nation to form diplomatic ties with Israel. Upon news of the announcement, Marilyn Diamond-Honorary Consul General for Morocco in Illinois and a Chicago Jewish native--found her email inbox filled with "Mazel tovs" and "Chag sameachs" from her Muslim Moroccan friends and colleagues.
Over the course of 2020, Israel has undergone various stages of establishing diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. But the Jewish-Muslim relationship in Morocco is unique to any other Muslim country. While the new ties formalize relations between Morocco and Israel, the North African country's Jews and Muslims have a long history of co-existence.
Before the establishment of the State of Israel, Moroccan Jews and Muslims interacted daily. Yet, in 1948 and beyond, more than 200,000 Moroccan Jews fled the country, the majority of whom moved to Israel. While Morocco was once home to the largest Jewish population outside the United States, today only 3,000 Jews remain in the country.
King Mohammed VI of Morocco--whose senior advisor,
, is Jewish--carries credibility with the Moroccan Jews. As chairman of the Al-Quds Committee, the king represents the Muslim world in assuring that Jerusalem remain an open city for all three Abrahamic faiths. Last year, he inaugurated a $1.5 million center in Morocco, called Bayt Dakira, dedicated to Jewish culture. The Moroccan government also recently mandated that Jewish history and culture be taught in the national school curriculum of Morocco.
Just following the news of the formalization of ties between Morocco and Israel, JUF News chatted with Diamond, whose work in Morocco began nearly 20 years ago.
Q. What does this mean to you personally?
A. I am thrilled to see a formalization of the ties between Morocco and Israel. [But even before the formalization], the Moroccan government's commitment to protecting the interests of their Jewish residents, and the inculcation of Jewish culture into Moroccan culture were so clear to me. On my first trip to Morocco, I was invited to a Shabbat dinner at the home of a Jewish Moroccan family. It was attended by people from the community--Muslim Moroccans and Jewish Moroccans--and you could see their ease with each other.
Despite a long history of many positive interactions between Jews and Muslims there, many of the Jews still fled once the State of Israel was established. Why?
I like to quote
, who has the king's ear on everything. What he says about Moroccan Jewish history is that it's a wonderful story with a few dark pages. In different regions and in different times, there were outbreaks of antisemitism, some of them violent.
For the purposes of modern history, because of the coverage on television of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the younger generations of Moroccans were not as likely to separate the Jewish people from the policies of a given government of Israel. So, yes, there have been some incidents of antisemitism in contemporary times.
But while that was going on, the kingdom of Morocco was still engaging in interfaith activities. There has [always] been a co-existence of Muslims and Jews in Morocco.
What are some examples of that co-existence?
The custom of the Mimouna celebration at the end of Passover-when Arab neighbors bring the first pieces of leavened bread to Jewish homes--is a Moroccan tradition. And there is an organization on college campuses in Morocco called the Mimouna Club, which has a mission to make sure that Moroccan young people grow up remembering their Jewish roots.
When did you first travel to Morocco?
I made my first trip to Morocco in October of 2001 at a time when stereotypes were soaring… Because of people-to-people diplomacy, by 2006, when the Pew research entity did a survey on Muslim attitudes toward the United States, they were higher [in approval] in Morocco than anywhere else in the Arab world. Everybody quickly learned that "the other" could be me and the stereotypes just flew out the window.
How will the new agreement between Morocco and Israel change the relationship?
The relations will become stronger than they already are, and in terms of political exchanges, those relations will become much more robust. But it's not going to be a brand new beginning--like it is for UAE or Bahrain. This is almost like family members getting to know each other better.