Belly dancer unmoved by Morocco anti-Israel protests

“This is an international festival and it is about promoting art, it is not political," performer says.

a belly dancer performs in Rabat, Morocco_370 (photo credit: Reuters/Rafael Marchante)
a belly dancer performs in Rabat, Morocco_370
(photo credit: Reuters/Rafael Marchante)
Just days after an Israeli diplomat was forced to cut short a working visit to Morocco on Sunday, and a day after a Jewish man was murdered in Fez on Monday, an international belly dancing festival set to take place in Marrakech in May has come under fire for including performers from Israel, Arab media reported.
“This is an international festival and it is about promoting art, it is not political,” Simona Guzman, who will perform and run workshops at the third annual International Belly Dance Festival, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
“We are talking about the body language of dance, and there is no distinguishing between people’s nationalities,” she said. “It makes no difference if someone is Jewish, Muslim or Christian.”
Guzman, who also participated in the event last year and whose family has roots in Turkey and Morocco, responded that she was surprised by Arab media reports that the event had stirred up controversy in Morocco because Israelis will be present.
One Israeli who will be participating in the festival is Asi Haskal, stylist and owner of a Tel Aviv belly dancing school.
According to reports, over the past few days some groups released statements attacking the festival, which criticized not only Israeli participation but also the arousing style of dance – which is perceived to be offensive to conservative Muslims.
Others have expressed anger that the festival’s official website appears in eight languages – including Hebrew – but does not feature Arabic. Some political and religious groups have even called for the festival to be cancelled.
On Sunday, Israeli diplomat David Saranga was forced to cut short a visit to Morocco after tens of thousands of people took part in a pro-Palestinian protest in front of the parliament in Rabat where he was attending meetings.
Saranga, Israel’s representative at a meeting of the Euro- Med organization (which groups the 27 EU states with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and eight Arab countries in the region), was escorted out of the parliament at the end of the meeting and – instead of spending another night in the Moroccan capital – was taken directly to the airport and put on a flight to Paris.
Meanwhile, police are investigating whether the murder of a Jewish man in Morocco – a day after Saranga’s evacuation – was nationalistic or criminally motivated.
The victim, identified as Benjamin, was struck in the head repeatedly by a hammer on Monday in the northern city of Fez, according to reports citing Moroccan media. The attacker fled the scene and has not been captured, according to reports.
Benjamin was a rent collector from Jewish-owned properties, according to Ynet. Police reportedly have ordered an autopsy Guzman, however, said that she found the anti-Israel sentiment strange given the warm reception she has received in the country in the past. “In all places there are extremist people but they do not represent all the people because the festival has received a lot of local support,” she said.
“Many Israelis visit Morocco all the time so I don’t really know why this is becoming an issue now,” Guzman added.
The International Belly Dance Festival, which is set to take place May 10-14, includes performances, training for dancers and workshops on the mechanisms of belly dancing.
People are expected to attend from all over the world.
JTA contributed to this report.