King Mohammed VI recognizes Jewish community as part of Moroccan culture

‘We can only hope this will inspire and embolden Arabs and Muslims around the world to follow Morocco’s lead.’

King Mohammed VI of Morocco reviews a guard of honour at the National palace during his state visit to Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, November 19, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI)
King Mohammed VI of Morocco reviews a guard of honour at the National palace during his state visit to Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, November 19, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI recognized the country’s Jewish community last week as a component of national culture, in a statement by the royal palace.

Following “royal instruction,” Moroccan Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit proposed in a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Rabat that new representative bodies be formed for the Jewish community, calling their traditions “a component of the rich Moroccan culture.”

Those bodies are the National Council of the Moroccan Jewish Community, overseeing community affairs, safeguarding heritage sites and forming regional committees; the Commission of Moroccan Jews Living Abroad, which is meant to nurture ties with Moroccan Jews around the world and defend the interests of Morocco; and the Foundation of Moroccan Judaism, meant to promote and protect Jewish-Moroccan intangible heritage and traditions.

The measures are based on King Mohammed VI’s role as “Commander of the Faithful,” which includes being guarantor of free worship for Moroccans.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center director of global social action Rabbi Abraham Cooper praised the announcement from Morocco, saying it “strengthens the DNA of peace and strikes a blow against religious extremists and antisemitism.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid walks stands next to his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita as they meet in Rabat, Morocco August 11, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/YOUSSEF BOUDLAL)Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid walks stands next to his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita as they meet in Rabat, Morocco August 11, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/YOUSSEF BOUDLAL)

“The establishment of new institutions and councils also signals that Moroccan Jewry has a continuing role in the nation’s culture and heritage into the future,” Cooper noted. “We can only hope that the steps King Mohammed VI has taken will inspire and embolden Arabs and Muslims around the world to follow Morocco’s lead.

“We can only hope that the steps King Mohammed VI has taken will inspire and embolden Arabs and Muslims around the world to follow Morocco’s lead.”

Rabbi Cooper 

Morocco and the Jewish people

Morocco and Israel reestablished diplomatic relations in 2020. An Israeli census in 2019 estimated nearly half a million Israelis of Moroccan-Jewish descent, but the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry puts the number at one million.

About 3,000 Jews are living in Morocco in communities thought to date as far back as the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, which grew significantly after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.

The announcement from Rabat on Wednesday came two days before Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli moved forward with opening the Allenby Crossing between Israel and Jordan 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with Morocco helping mediate the process between Israel and Palestinians, who are the primary users of the crossing. 

Reactions from Morocco

"This is a royal commandment, we do not ask if it is right or wrong because the king is the head of our country and knows what he is doing," Chief Rabbi of Casablanca rabbi Dr. Yitzchack Sabag told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Sabag is also a member of the International unit of the Conference of European Rabbis.

Sabag revealed that this decision by Morocco's King was supposed to be announced before the COVID-19 pandemic but it was delayed since. "Before the pandemic, the King gave instructions to the interior minister to advance the matter, yet it was only recently that the plan was submitted to him," Sabag explained. 

"We are very happy with the king's decision," he said and added that "the king is very smart, he has a vision and he understood that in 2022 the way our community works is old-fashioned."

Sabag explained that for tens of years, the Jewish community bodies haven't had proper elections and that its representatives are usually voted by a small internal committee. "There used to be elections, but in a closed framework. Now, according to the new outline, there will be elections and everyone will be able to go out and vote for their candidates for the different roles."

Sabag said that he remembered tens of years ago, when he served as secretary of the chief rabbi, "there were a lot more Jews that lived in Morocco and they would have parties and events at the Hilton hotel in Rabat. I remember that there were conferences at night, and all kinds of people were appointed, yet the electing body was from within the leadership of the community and nowadays the electing body will belong to all the Jews."

Asked what the budget for these new royal initiatives will be, Sabag responded that "no one knows anything at the moment; the project is still very new and we still don't know exactly how everything will work. The new National Council, on behalf of the king, will send the king all the issues it wants to promote and how they want to manage the council and the king will decide exactly if to agree and budget them."

Sabag said that definitely one of the reasons for the King's decision was made now can be related to the fact that Israel and Morocco have renewed diplomatic relations with each other.  

Zvika Klein contributed to this report.