Morocco: Why Mohammed VI is dusting off Jewish institutions

By Achraf Tijani
Posted on Thursday, 11 August 2022 10:38

King Mohammed VI visiting the Bayt Dakira (House of Memory) museum, dedicated to the coexistence between Jews and Muslims, in Essaouira, on 15 January 2020. © Moroccan Royal Palace / AFP

For the third time in almost a century, the bodies representing the Kingdom’s Jewish community are being reorganised. This decision was made in response to the obsolete existing legislation as well as the new diplomatic context.

Along with 1918 and 1945, 2022 marks a milestone for the Moroccan Jewish community. During the Council of Ministers on 13 July, three new bodies were created: the National Council of the Moroccan Jewish Community, the Commission of Moroccan Jews Abroad and the Foundation of Moroccan Judaism. King Mohammed VI and Crown Prince Moulay Hassan were present when Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit announced the project.

In front of the monarch, the government’s number two specified each body’s role. The first one is responsible for the day-to-day management and the community’s affairs. The second one serves as a link between members of the Moroccan Jewish Diaspora and their country of origin. And the third one is the guardian of Jewish culture within the Kingdom.

This development was expected as the 7 May 1945 dahir, concerning the reorganisation of the Jewish community committees, no longer seemed relevant.

Given that it was enacted during a period when some 200,000 Jews were living in Morocco – there are nearly 3,000 today – “new institutions adapted to the new reality” needed to be set up, according to Myriem Khrouz, president of the Association of Friends of Moroccan Judaism (AJM).

As a result, the public authorities wanted to break with the haphazard action of the committees in the main cities, which lacked the necessary authority to set guidelines at the national level. This is the case, for example, with the rules of kashrut, the Jewish religion’s set of dietary restrictions.

Should only graduates of national institutions be recognised or should this competence be extended to foreign graduates? The National Council of the Jewish Community, with the support of regional committees, will be permitted to decide on such issues in the future.

The reform thus aims to not only put an end to uncoordinated actions, but also to questionable representation. While the April 2019 Royal Instructions ordered the Ministry of Interior to resume the Jewish representative bodies’ periodic elections, the leaders of the committees in the main cities are often appointed by co-option, descent and without an elective process, provoking criticism of the opaque process surrounding the appointment of Jewish community representatives.

Since the 1960s and the emigration of many Moroccan Jews, the Jewish Diaspora’s lack of interest in the issue has allowed a certain laxity to take hold.

The 13 July reform includes another major evolution, as it opens the possibility for Jews of Moroccan origin living abroad to have a representative body in the kingdom.

“The lobbying done by Jews of Moroccan descent to have an institution in charge of representing them has produced its effect,” says a source familiar with the matter.

From now on, within the Commission of Moroccan Jews Abroad, the almost one million Jews with Moroccan roots – present mainly in Israel – will have a say in the community’s internal affairs. The idea is also to make them relays abroad for Morocco’s interests.

Following the normalisation of relations with the Hebrew State initiated in December 2020, it is no longer rare to come across Israeli tourists in Marrakech’s Jemaa El-Fna Square. The Moroccan National Tourist Office hopes that nearly 200,000 Israelis will settle in Morocco in 2022.

But how should the import of kosher food be regulated to allow these newcomers to feed themselves? How should the renovation of synagogues and cemeteries be organised? How should reception areas be adapted to this new flow of tourists? These are the questions that the National Council of the Moroccan Jewish Community will have to resolve.

“It is a national issue and a challenge that must be taken up by both government authorities and civil society,” says André Gomel, vice-president of the AJM.

The organisation of Judaism in Morocco will henceforth be governed by Moroccan institutions at the national level, each with a specific area of competence.

“The non-institutionalised existence of a large Jewish community could sometimes give rise to untimely initiatives both on the national territory and abroad,” says Gomel.

Whether it is a question of renovating places of pilgrimage or respecting the legislation on imports of kosher products, the reform is expected to lead to a better understanding of the rules governing the community’s affairs.

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