King's Jewish adviser fights for Palestinians

"Will you find another Jewish person in an Arab or Muslim country in my position?"

taglit.sendarticle (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Andre Azoulay considers himself a member of a very elite club of Jewish advisers to Muslim rulers. The only problem, he said, "is that I am the only club member." "My position is not as usual as it could be," the counselor to King Muhammad VI of Morocco said in an interview Monday. "It is very frustrating to be in the only Arab and Muslim country where a Jew can be in my position." On Tuesday, Azoulay, 64, received an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev "as a Jew whose roots lie in Morocco, who has devoted his time and energy to a life-long quest for coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East and Northern Africa." Azoulay described himself to The Jerusalem Post as a "militant" in a "fight for peace" between Palestinians and Israelis. "As far as I can remember," he said, "I was always fighting to find a way out which will give a chance to the Palestinians to recover their freedom, dignity, their identity [and] their state, and give by that a chance to make Israel more secure, more safe, more peaceful, and stronger." According to Azoulay, who lives in Rabat and has an office in the palace, Israel's security is tied to the Palestinans' well-being. "I don't see the possibility of [a] strong, viable and secure state for Israel without a decent political solution to the Palestinian people - which means a full and sovereign Palestinian state living side by side with Israel." Azoulay, who was born in the village of Mogador and considers himself an "Arab Jew," started his battle for peace some 50 years ago. "I started a long time ago, before being adviser to the king... to fight for my Judaism, to fight for the sake and the security of Israel," and to give the Palestinians the best chance "to live as a nation side by side Israel with the same values." For the last 16 years, the former banker served as an adviser to the late King Hassan II and now to his son King Muhammad VI, a job that he feels is both a privilege and a responsibility "because I am the only member of my club," he said. His drive to fight for Palestinian rights came from his Jewish upbringing in his hometown in Morocco, he said. He was taught by his rabbi that being Jewish meant he should believe "my [non-Jewish] neighbor must enjoy the same values as me. My neighbor today in my mind is Palestinian. Until the Palestinian people recover their dignity, their freedom, I feel my Judaism is weaker and hurt." He said his Judaism felt strengthened while he worked "to restore dignity, justice and freedom for Palestinians" because it made Israel stronger "my Judaism - and our Judaism - deeper. I want to be a full Jew and enjoy all my Jewishness. That's why my fight to give a chance to the Palestinians is to protect my Judaism." He has met "all the Arab leaders" in this role. But it has not been easy as a Jew to fight for both Israel's rights and the Palestinians' rights. "Will you find another Jewish person in an Arab or Muslim country in my position? ...It's a very very challenging stressing fight, and I'm not ready to give up." He has been verbally attacked by both sides. "I suffered as a militant," he said. "Both [at the hands of] Israeli Jewish fundamentalists and Arab Muslim fundamentalists." Azoulay has always been active in these areas. He initiated the Casablanca Conference and was the recipient of the prestigious L gion d'Honneur of France. He founded the Identity and Dialogue organization, which strives to nurture and preserve the cultural identity of Jews from North Africa and promote ongoing dialogue between Jews and Arabs. He is co-chairman of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East and a member of the Three Cultures and Religions Foundation. He is also a member of the highly prestigious Alliance of Civilizations, whose members include former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Karen Armstrong, and Professor John Esposito. He did not believe the Ben-Gurion University doctorate was meant for him as Andre Azoulay. "[It] has nothing to do with my person," he said. "For me, this distinction was given to someone who was fighting for peace, someone who was loyal to his people and someone who has tried to balance his roots and his history - which I consider unique - to give a chance to mutual understanding, mutual respect." "It is to show that it is not only possible but [consistent] for a Jewish person to fight for the Palestinian causes because it makes his Judaism stronger," he said.