On a hot July afternoon, Noam Nir was sitting in his office in the coastal Moroccan city of Essaouira when he heard voices shouting from the street.
“I realized there was a demonstration on my doorstep, so I grabbed my camera and went outside,” Nir told The Media Line.
Outside, Nir encountered a group of high-school aged youth chanting Anti-Zionist slogans.
“Standing across my property and shouting ‘Zionism get out of here,’ it was clear who they were referring to,” Nir said, implying it was directed at him.
“In a previous demonstration during Passover they chanted terrible Anti-Israeli slogans: ‘Netanyahu is a murderer, Israel is racist.’ They accused André Azoulay, the King’s Jewish advisor, of being a Mossad agent, and called on him to leave Morocco. These are unusual chants in Moroccan politics.”
Following the latest demonstration, Nir filed a police complaint against three members of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), which organized the youth camp assembling the young demonstrators. In early August, Moroccan legal authorities questioned two of the association’s activists on charges of incitement and Anti-Semitism.
Nir, 41, has been living in Morocco for 10 years. The son of a Moroccan Jew, he says he decided to immigrate to the country following an appeal by King Muhammad VI to “people of the land” to return to Morocco and build a thriving society.
Less than 7,000 Jews currently reside in Morocco, mainly in the city of Casablanca. Before 1948 the Jewish community was 250,000 strong, but over the years most Jews left for Israel or France.
“I am very active in the Jewish community here,” Nir said. “These people are trying to incite against me because I defended the King’s Jewish advisor. The organization does not miss an opportunity to criticize Jews who are active in international processes, that is: in normalization between Morocco and Israel.”
AMDH boasts a nationwide membership of 12,000 people. In a statement published on its website following the July incident, AMDH makes a clear distinction between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism.
“Just as all members of the Association oppose Zionism […] so they principally oppose Anti-Semitism and hatred towards Jews.”
AMDH goes on to blame Zionism for the confusion between Jews and Zionists.
“AMDH appeals to democrats and defenders of human rights abroad and points their attention to the danger of systematically mixing Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism, which stands at the base of Zionist Noam Nir’s lawsuit against members of the Association. This confusion was unfortunately successfully planted in the minds of many parts of public opinion.”
Nir claims the slogans shouted in the demonstrations could incite ordinary citizens to commit acts of violence against Jews.
“There is a danger to the Jewish community. All it takes is one man with a knife.”
According to Nir, the average Moroccan does not distinguish Anti-Zionism from Anti-Semitism.
“I have spoken to a wide array of Moroccans, from fish merchants in the market to government civil servants, and discovered that they make no distinction between anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist slogans. I tell AMDH: if you are not anti-Jewish but only anti-Zionist, go out and tell your public what the difference is.”
Khadija Riyadi, director of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights rejected Nir’s claims of Anti-Semitism on the part of her organization.
“We are responsible for what we say, not what others understand,” Riyadi
told The Media Line. “Indeed there is confusion in Morocco between
Judaism and Zionism, and we work to clarify the difference.”
According to Riyadi, the slogans shouted pose no danger to Jews in the
Kingdom. She added that Anti-Jewish slogans run counter to the interests
of her organization.
“Opposition to Judaism strengthens the Imperialistic goals of Zionism,”
Riyadi says. “It encourages Jews to leave their countries and immigrate
to Israel. We believe in complete freedom of religion for all citizens.”
Riyadi speculated that external powers stand behind Nir’s lawsuit. She
said the Moroccan government has launched a campaign to de-legitimize
her organization due to its harsh criticism of human rights abuses in
Morocco, in an attempt to cut its foreign funding.
“Anti-Semitism is a very sensitive issue in Europe, and accusing us of
it could harm our funding from the European Union,” Riyadi said.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal
Center, which filed a petition to Moroccan Authorities following Nir’s
affair, says not all criticism of Israel is Anti-Semitic.
“There can be legitimate criticism of Israel, but when Israel is singled
out – that’s another matter,” he told The Media Line. “We review such
issues on a case-by-case basis.”