The decision of my country, Morocco, to engage in full diplomatic and cultural relations with the State of Israel presents the Middle East with unique and new opportunities for positive change and growth. Our King, His Majesty King Mohammed VI stressed that this warming relationship between Israel and Morocco is based on “the historical role that Morocco has played in bringing the peoples of the region together and supporting security and stability in the Middle East and the special ties that bind the Jewish community of Moroccan origin, including those in Israel, to the person of His Majesty the King.”
Under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, Morocco has experienced a paradigm shift on the perception of difference and diversity. In the past, “difference” was considered a threat; it is now recognized as a resource. Diversity is now appreciated as a gift to the Moroccan people, providing an opportunity to gain from the cultural richness it provides. Moroccans cherish the Jewish heritage of their country and treat it as part of their collective legacy.
His Majesty is the direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed and holds the title of “Defender of the Faithful.” He is the grandson of the beloved King Mohammed V, whose actions in defense of the Jews of Morocco in the face of the murderous Vichy government during World War II were as brave as they were extraordinary, in a world that was largely passive during this dark period of dehumanization and atrocity.
Equally significant is His Majesty’s devotion to maintaining and enhancing the historic presence of the Jews of his country. From the maintenance of the Jewish cemeteries, renaming the streets of the Mellah (the Jewish quarter) to their original Jewish names, rebuilding of historic Jewish neighborhoods, to integrating Judeo-Moroccan history and culture into the Moroccan school curriculum, the king has demonstrated a remarkable inclusiveness and cross-cultural sensitivity. His Majesty King Mohammed VI’s has rejected Holocaust denial by declaring that Moroccans do not suffer from amnesia. He also declared that anti-Semitism “is the antithesis of freedom of expression. It implies a denial of the other and is an admission of failure, inadequacy and an inability to coexist. It implies an anachronistic return to a mythicized past.”
An individual who thinks and speaks in this way often also succeeds in changing other people’s mind-sets. He can expand their vision, give them hope and instill optimism into the hearts and minds of those frozen in historical time in a battle that no one can ever win. King Mohammed VI’s respectful voice of fairness and reason is needed to give Israelis (particularly those of Moroccan descent) the chance to re-examine the legitimate history and expectations of the Palestinian people and help bring about a historic compromise that will put an end to the violence of body and soul that consumes the future.
My organization, Association Mimouna, is the only NGO in Morocco dedicated to enhancing Muslim-Jewish relations and dedicated to educating the general public about Moroccan Jewish history, culture, and religion. We have been working together with KIVUNIM, the unique Jewish gap-year program founded by acclaimed Jewish educator, Peter Geffen (also founder of The Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York City). For over a decade, we have cooperated in many projects seeking to spotlight the “Moroccan exception” of Jewish-Muslim relations and turn it into an expectation. We co-sponsored the first Holocaust Conference in the Arab world in 2011 at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. We brought the first (and so far only) Arab student seminar to Israel and Palestine, in 2012, introducing Moroccan Muslim students to the nuances and complexities of the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict. KIVUNIM offered the first international tribute to King Mohammed V at the United Nations in 2009, and, in 2015, awarded the first Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel/Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Award to the late king in an extraordinary ceremony in the sanctuary of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in NYC.
Speaking to KIVUNIM alumni on December 20, 2015, King Mohammed VI said, so inspirationally:
…these (KIVUNIM) students, who are members of the American Jewish community, will be different people in their community tomorrow. Not just different, but also valuable, because they have made the effort to see the world in a different light, to better understand our intertwined and unified traditions, paving the way for a different future, for a new, shared destiny full of the promises of history, which, as they have realized in Morocco, is far from being relegated to the past.
We stand together in anticipation of a royal leadership that can cause, as the Hebrew liturgy so beautiful proclaims: “אור חדש על ציון תאיר … a new light to shine upon Zion!”