Gadi Golan - Israel’s last man in Morocco

In 1998 came the call to represent Israel in Morocco, an unusual posting.

MOROCCO’S KING HASSAN II (center) speaks with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and foreign minister Shimon Peres in the King’s Palace in Rabat, Morocco, 1995 (photo credit: REUTERS)
MOROCCO’S KING HASSAN II (center) speaks with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and foreign minister Shimon Peres in the King’s Palace in Rabat, Morocco, 1995
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Gadi Golan was born in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942. As the roundup of France’s Jews reached its peak, his mother handed her baby to her sister, who went into hiding. Gadi and his aunt survived the remaining years of the war; his parents perished in Auschwitz.
When he was 18 Golan immigrated to Israel. He spent some years on a kibbutz in the Negev, and later married.
Toward the end of the 1960s the Foreign Ministry, then establishing diplomatic relations with a swath of African nations, many of them francophone, advertised for French-speakers. Golan applied, was accepted and in 1970 was sent on his first posting to Burkina Faso, a small landlocked state in West Africa.
His subsequent career in the foreign service saw him posted to Canada and then to Cameroon, where, after a few years’ service, he became ambassador in 1986. Periods in the Ivory Coast and Nigeria followed, and then in 1998 came the call to represent Israel in Morocco.
It was an unusual posting, reflecting the unusual relationship between the two countries. Morocco had never recognized the State of Israel, so formal diplomatic relations did not exist. There was no Israeli embassy. Golan was to take up the post of consul and head of mission, a diplomatic compromise that had been established a few years earlier.
Even this was possible only because, since the accession of Hassan II to the Moroccan throne in 1961, the two nations had built up a strong relationship under the radar, especially in the fields of military intelligence and covert support.
It was the Oslo I Accord of 1993 that cleared the way to a more open acknowledgment of Moroccan-Israeli cooperation. Pictures of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat, under the benevolent gaze of US president Bill Clinton, dominated the global media. As a result Hassan felt able to invite Israel to the major economic conference he chaired in Casablanca in October 1994. It ended with the king and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres declaring the Arab boycott of Israel effectively over.
A 14-point Casablanca Declaration, issued by Hassan after the conference, called for a partnership between government and business to develop the economies of the Middle East and North Africa.
Golan arrived to find a country in which the Jewish community, numbering some 2,600, was less than 1% of what it had been at the end of the Second World War.
Gadi Golan (Courtesy Gadi Golan)Gadi Golan (Courtesy Gadi Golan)
In 1945 there were some 270,000 Jews living in Morocco ‒ a population equivalent to what it had been before the war, mainly because King Mohammed V had refused to obey an order from Vichy France, the colonial power, to round up and deport his Jews. Members of the Jewish community had long served the crown as ministers, diplomats and advisers. Mohammed took seriously his role as commander of the faithful, which he perceived as including all “people of the book,” meaning everyone belonging to the Abrahamic faiths. “There are no Jews in Morocco,” he declared. “There are only Moroccan subjects.”
The subsequent Jewish exodus from Morocco occurred in several waves. Jews fled from pogroms linked to Israel’s foundation in 1948 and again in 1954. After Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956, the government became alarmed at the hemorrhage of its Jewish population, and in 1959 declared Zionism a crime and banned immigration to Israel.
On his accession in 1961, King Hassan II reversed that policy. He concluded a secret and lucrative agreement, brokered by the Mossad, under which he accepted a per-head bounty of $50 for every Jew who emigrated from Morocco. A total of $4 million was raised for an initial 80,000 Jews, most of whom came to Israel to join the tens of thousands who had already made aliyah. The Six Day War in 1967 led to a further wave of emigration. Between 1961 and 1967, around 120,000 Jews left Morocco.
I ASKED Golan about the state of the Jewish community when he took up his post.
He said that despite its low numbers, it was far from defunct. There was a vibrant Jewish social and educational system in place. In particular, he recalls, the network of Jewish public schools achieved such high standards that Muslim parents competed for places in them.
He found little antisemitism among the Moroccan public, although there was anti-Israel sentiment in plenty.
Golan’s working relationships in Morocco were very largely with the palace and Hassan’s political advisers. He had little contact with the government machine or the military.
I asked him about the effect of Hassan’s death in 1999. He described it as massive. The country was shaken to the core, he said. On the day of the royal funeral, it seemed as though the whole nation had turned out into the streets.
KING HASSAN II on the way to Friday prayers in Marrakech, 1966.  (Wikimedia Commons)KING HASSAN II on the way to Friday prayers in Marrakech, 1966. (Wikimedia Commons)
Golan was at the heart of Israel’s response ‒ no easy task. Hassan died on July 23; a new government had taken office in Israel less than three weeks before. In the event, three aircraft flew from Israel. One contained the president, Ezer Weizman; one the new prime minister, Ehud Barak; and one the just-appointed foreign minister, David Levy.
Coincidentally, Hassan’s death was followed very shortly by the severing of the tenuous relationship that had persisted between Morocco and Israel for some 40 years.
On September 29, 2000, Ariel Sharon, then leader of the Likud, in the opposition, decided to take a symbolic walk on the Temple Mount. Whether this was the root cause of the Second Intifada, or whether that resumption of the Palestinian terrorism campaign had been long planned and was awaiting a suitable trigger – these conjectures are largely irrelevant in the light of the effect in the Arab world.
Gadi Golan was one casualty of the fury. He received a telephone call from Morocco’s deputy foreign minister, who told him that it had been decided to sever relations with Israel, and that he must leave the country.
Parting proved to be a sweet sorrow. Three days is the period usually allotted to persona non grata who are told to depart. Unusually, the minister asked Golan how much time he needed. When Golan requested 10 days, it was immediately granted. Arriving eventually at the airport, he found himself being ushered into the VIP lounge to await his flight. Morocco’s reluctance at losing him could not have been made clearer.
I ASKED Golan about Morocco’s recent accession to the Abraham Accords, a concept so in tune with the beliefs of King Mohammed V, grandfather of the country’s current ruler, Mohammed VI. How much weight did Golan place on the Trump peace plan as laying the foundation for this astonishing breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations?
As far as Morocco is concerned, said Golan, the whole history of relations between the two countries points to normalization of the connection as a natural development that would have come about sooner or later. He believes that much the same is true of the Gulf states.
SYNAGOGUE IN the Mellah, once home to the city’s Jewish population, Marrakech 2019. It was originally built in 1492 by Jews expelled from Spain. (Wikimedia Commons)SYNAGOGUE IN the Mellah, once home to the city’s Jewish population, Marrakech 2019. It was originally built in 1492 by Jews expelled from Spain. (Wikimedia Commons)
He sees a clear will among Moroccan political and business leaders for close cooperation with Israel in a whole range of areas including hi-tech, agriculture, medical, scientific and security.
Opposition to normalization between the Arab world and Israel, says Golan, is centered on Islamist extremist groups intent on achieving religious objectives, not on economic and social development.
In a document produced in September 2018, Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies – analyzed Israeli-Moroccan relations in depth. It points to the six-year period between 1994 and 2000 ‒ encompassing Golan’s term of office as consul ‒ as “a taste of cooperation that might have been.”
The formal normalization of relations between the two countries has converted that hope into reality. It took longer than strictly necessary, perhaps, but the period spent by Golan representing Israel in Morocco at the turn of the century undoubtedly laid the groundwork for what has at last occurred.
The writer is Middle East correspondent for Eurasia Review. His latest book is Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020 and he blogs at www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com.