The resumption of diplomatic relations with Morocco may restore a “crown to its former glory” (Atara Leyoshna).
On the eve of Passover this year, I am most looking forward to the Mimuna holiday — a traditional Jewish Moroccan celebration and feast which immediately follows the end of Passover. The Mimuna is a holiday full of love for others, good neighborliness, hospitality and multiculturalism – the same values that can also be expressed through Israel’s relations with its neighbors.
Personally, I am a “sabra” of Ashkenazi descent, but Mimuna is nonetheless my favorite holiday and I have always wished to receive an invitation from my Moroccan friends to celebrate. Not only because of the plethora of sweets (which are sure to throw me off my diet), but because of the values that the Mimuna represents.
My love for the holiday developed under the influence of two Ashkenazis like me. Firstly, my political mentor Shimon Peres, who resolutely nurtured Israel’s relations with Morocco. Secondly, my father-in-law Dr. Dan Ronen, who was an expert on ethnic folklore, wrote a booklet on the Mimuna and for a year was the MC of the main Mimuna event in Jerusalem.
Peres had close relations with King Hassan II of Morocco and with the heads of the Jewish community in Morocco. He saw Morocco’s moderate diplomatic approach as having the potential to affect Israel’s relations with the entire region. The event that most prominently demonstrated Peres’ vision of the “New Middle East” – The same vision that was once harshly criticized by those who are promoting it today, was the Casablanca Economic Conference in 1995.
At the time, Morocco was one of the countries in which an Israeli mission was established in the wake of the Oslo Accords. Unfortunately, it was terminated following the intifada and the deterioration of relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Despite the freeze in diplomatic relations between the two countries, Morocco remained open to Israeli tourists and business. Morocco also tried to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, as it did between Israel and Egypt before the Camp David Accords. In the Palestinian context, Morocco has a special status as chairing the Jerusalem Committee of the Organization of Muslim States and therefore has a clear commitment to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict peacefully.
As part of a series of lectures this year on March 2nd called “With the Face to the Maghreb”, the author, journalist and former MK Daniel Ben Simon, whose book “The Moroccans” was published in 2016, hosted Andre Azoulay, Special Adviser to the King of Morocco Muhammad VI and to his father King Hassan II.
Azoulay was a close friend of Peres’ and continued to serve today as a member of the International Board of Governors of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. In his lecture, Azoulay expressed his desire for “the normalization between Morocco and Israel to provide an opportunity for the entire region”.
“We have all long hoped for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In the 1990’s we were close and we missed a lot of opportunities, I think if we can help bring that spirit back it will be one of the important things that will contribute to the relations between Morocco and Israel,” Azoulay went on to say.
Morocco carries a sense of loss for the significant and vibrant Jewish community that left the country in the 1960’s, taking with it an important component of Moroccan multiculturalism. In Morocco, there exists a prevailing discourse of tolerance and acceptance of “the other”, based on a long tradition of reciprocity and mutual respect between members of the country’s three main religions. The Jewish community in Morocco had a history of open and broad-minded Judaism intertwined with universal values.
Our current representatives in Morocco, Ambassador David Govrin, who is a veteran diplomat with experience as ambassador to Egypt, and Einat Levy, an expert on Moroccan issues, are a great choice to renew diplomatic relations between countries.
It is imperative that the Israeli government use this opportunity to cultivate a spirit of reconciliation between neighbors – Arabs and Jews – and to advance the process of settling the conflict with the Palestinians while strengthening bilateral relations.
The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation is ready and willing to take part in this process and fulfill Peres’ legacy by using the expertise he has gained over his 25 years in peace projects in various disciplines – health, education, business and environment – and by harnessing the power of Israeli innovation to promote peace and “Tikun Olam” (repairing the world).
“Tirbachu and Tisadu (Have fun and dine)”!
**The article was published on The Times of Israel, 28 March 2021