I have just returned from Morocco, where my wife Susie and I enjoyed a marvelous tour of the country as we helped staff a group sponsored by Joey Freudmann and Ophir Tours. This trip follows closely upon the heels of our recent journey to Dubai – also an Ophir Tour program – and so we have now visited two of the Muslim countries that recently finalized diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.
We Jews recite a blessing thanking God “for the miracles we encounter every day,” and this surely is one of them. While it is true that contacts between Israel and the Emirates have long been an open secret – our daughter went on business trips to Dubai years ago with a large Israeli contingent, all of them traveling on foreign passports – now the gates have opened wide, and Israelis are warmly and openly welcomed.
In Dubai, there are kosher restaurants and hotels, synagogues, and even a Holocaust museum. As Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie, head of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, told us, “Dubai may very well be the only place on Earth where you can walk down the street wearing an ‘I Love Israel’ T-shirt and waving an Israeli flag, and no one will say one negative word to you.”
Morocco, for its part, has a long and exalted relationship with the Jewish people. Jews first went to Morocco as early as 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple, and many thousands were later given refuge there during the Inquisition, when Spain and Portugal brutally expelled their own Jewish populations.
As many as 350,000 Jews lived in Morocco, and that community’s aliyah is the second largest, after that of the Soviet Union. Despite pressure from the Arab League, King Hassan II – who ruled from 1961-1999 – fostered good relations with his own Jewish subjects, as well as with Israel, even encouraging Egypt’s Anwar Sadat to take the dramatic step of officially recognizing the Jewish state.
One of the things that struck me the most during my visit was seeing the Magen David – the Star of David that is the symbol of Israel – prominently displayed not only on the 110 synagogues restored by Morocco but also on numerous examples of Moroccan art; from beautiful ceramic plates to silver and fine jewelry. Morocco also boasts the only Jewish museum in the Arab world, in Casablanca, and as many as 50,000 Jews visit Morocco annually, many of them former residents who fondly recall their years spent there.
The courageous attitudes of Israel's new Muslim allies
We should not underestimate either the courageous attitude displayed by these countries, nor the opportunity these relationships present. If we can demonstrate that our nations can rise above the long-term animosity and intransigence of the larger Muslim world, we can create a model that offers hope rather than hate, respect rather than rejection.
The Abraham Accords, fashioned by US president Donald Trump, ambassador David Friedman, envoy Jared Kushner and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hopefully be a turning point in our history and a sublime light in the darkness.
WHICH BRINGS us to the subject of terrorism. Last week’s brutal murder of seven Jews emerging from Shabbat services (can you imagine world reaction if seven Muslims had been killed coming out of mosque on Friday?!) brought home the sad reality that changes in government do not necessarily translate into changes in anti-Jewish violence. Despite the aggressive rhetoric of the new coalition – which promises a much tougher stance on the purveyors of terror – the proof lies in the statistics that are to follow.
Terrorism is excruciatingly difficult to combat when you are dealing with an enemy that has no regard for the lives of its own people. If we seek out the perpetrators and eliminate them – often with an unavoidable, significant amount of collateral damage – then the terror leaders will use that to both glorify the martyred shahidim and foment even more anger and animosity toward us. But if we reduce our pressure on them and simply absorb our suffering, then we show weakness that will only encourage even more attacks on us.
It is, sad to say, a win-win for the bad guys and a lose-lose for us.
But I am glad to see that some progress may be forthcoming in our war with evil. The headlines say that monies paid to terrorists and their families by the criminal Palestinian Authority in their “pay for slay” doctrine will not only be deducted from Palestinian taxes but actually given to victims of terror.
I have written more than once about the bluff that has accompanied the government’s well-intentioned response to the PA’s policy. Rather than actually taking the money out of Palestinian pockets, we only froze the payments, holding them in escrow until the Palestinians finally stop the terror. And, to make matters even worse, we “lent” – there’s a euphemism for you, if ever there was one – hundreds of millions of shekels to the beleaguered PA, more than making up for what was withheld from them.
If now that money can truly be handed over to the thousands of Israeli victims and their families killed or wounded over the years, that would indeed be progress. It would also signal a turn-around for the government, which has shamefully resisted efforts by victims to collect on numerous judgments against the Palestinians, on the premise of “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
While virtually all the suits against the PA have resulted in favorable decisions, little – if any – actual money ends up in the pockets of those who suffered. The days of letting the killers off the hook must end and, certainly, suitcases filled with millions of Qatari dollars must never again be handed over to the enemy as previous Netanyahu administrations shamefully did.
I am also gratified to hear the pledge now being made – is it policy or just publicity? – that jailed terrorists will no longer enjoy a comfy, cushy life behind bars, complete with cable TV, college degrees and smuggled sperm for future terrorists. Prison is meant to be a punishment, not a privilege, and if this makes them upset, well, that’s a bonus. And if this government likes making new laws, how about establishing and applying the sentence of “life with no chance of parole” to the terrorists, which will prevent another disastrous prisoner release, as in the Shalit fiasco.
“I’ve come to realize that not every Arab or Muslim wants to kill me.”Susie, the wife of Stewart Weiss
At the end of both our Dubai and Moroccan tours, Susie perhaps summed it up best when she said, “I’ve come to realize that not every Arab or Muslim wants to kill me.” I agree with her. And so, as challenging as it may be, we have to extend a friendly, open hand to those seeking peace, while at the same time brandishing a powerful fist to those who would harm us.
Just as there should be no shame whatsoever in seeking new friends, there must be no hesitation at all in striking at old foes.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. firstname.lastname@example.org