moroccan king 88.
(photo credit: )
President Moshe Katsav issued a public invitation to King Muhammad VI of Morocco on Wednesday night to come to Israel on an official visit and to help sow the seeds of peace in the region.
The invitation was relayed via banker Andre Azoulay, a long-time financial and economic adviser to the king and to his late father King Hassan II and former government ministers Robert Asraf, President of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews and Serge Berdugo, President of the Jewish Communities of Morocco.
The three men are in Israel at the head of a large delegation of Moroccan Jews who joined Israelis of Moroccan background at an overflow conference at Beit Hanassi where they were addressed by Moroccan-born Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar and several Moroccan-born scholars who have made their mark in Israeli academic circles.
Katsav, who is aware of the extraordinary measures taken by the Moroccan king to safeguard his Jewish subjects, applauded him for his strong stand against anti-Semitism and expressed the hope that diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel would be renewed in the near future.
Reminded by Azoulay of how well-connected Morocco is to the region as a whole, Katsav was optimistic that a visit by King Muhammad would be instrumental in advancing an atmosphere of reconciliation.
In 1948, when the State of Israel was proclaimed, the Moroccan Jewish community numbered between 250,000-300,000 souls. Large-scale emigration to Israel, Canada, Venezuela and other parts of the world left a shrunken Jewish population that was an acute minority in a Moslem country.
It was not always easy, acknowledged Azoulay, "but we never compromised on our identity, our values and our memories." Whatever suffering Moroccan Jews had endured, he said, could not compare to what was inflicted on the Jews of Europe. "It wasn't exactly the Garden of Eden, but we were a protected minority," he said.
While maintaining their Jewish heritage, Moroccan Jews are also strongly nationalistic said Azoulay and are torn when they hear news reports of Palestinians killing Israeli Jews, and Israelis killing Palestinians. "We are after all partially Arab" he said, reflecting on centuries of Jewish existence in Morocco which is the last bastion of flourishing Jewish life in the Arab world.
Though determined to remain on Moroccan soil to preserve its glorious Jewish heritage, Moroccan Jews are also eager for peace for Israel, he said, adding: "If you are a proud Jew, you cannot be indifferent to peace."
Moroccan Jews live in a country which supports Palestinian aspirations but which is also committed to peace, said Azoulay. "We want peace to be equally shared by Jews and Moslems, Jews and Arabs and we work in the service of peace," he said.
These sentiments were echoed by Berdugo, who said: "We are not prepared to compromise our Judaism or our connections with Israel." King Muhammad, he said, believes that Jewish tradition is integral to Moroccan culture. "We know the king protects us just as he protects all other citizens of Morocco. We want to be involved in the Middle East peace process in which King Hassan II was a pioneer. King Muhammad walks in his father's footsteps and supports all initiatives towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."