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Morocco currently has a Jewish community of 4,500 members, most of them concentrated in Casablanca. It is a mere shadow of the country’s storied Jewish community which began nearly 2000 years ago after the destruction of the second temple and reached a peak of more than 250,000 in 1948. Since, in several waves, Jews left Morocco, mainly to Israel, but also to Europe and Canada.
The country still boasts, however, the largest remaining Jewish community in the Arab world and prides itself with flourishing Jewish life, all sponsored and protected by the ruler. There are 15 synagogues in Casablanca, a Jewish school system that attracts also Muslim students, and even a Jewish Beit Din, religious court, that operates as part of the state court system.
The Jewish community’s strong show of support for the Moroccan ruler dates back to the former king Mohammed V who refused to implement the discriminatory Vichy laws against his country’s Jewish community during World War II. The community continued to enjoy good relations with the monarch after Morocco gained its independence. Most recently, in 2010, King Mohammed launched a program to preserve the nation’s cemeteries and funded a major drive that restored more than 12,000 Jewish graves. Now, the Jewish community is advising Muslim organizations on how to implement the cemetery restoration program.
Will King Mohammed’s tolerance save Morocco’s Jews from the upheaval caused in some countries following the Arab Spring?
Berdugu believes it can. The country’s prime minister, Abdelillah Benkirane, leader of the Islamist Justice and Development party, participated last year at the dedication of a new synagogue. With Islamists like these, he believes, Morocco’s Jews have nothing to fear. “Morocco is immune,” added Abbadi. He noted that throughout history, the country had proved its ability to reject extremism and to embrace tolerance for its Arab, Berber, and Jewish populations.
In the mid 1990’s Morocco experiences a short-lived normalization in its relations with Israel, but the collapse of the Oslo accords and the eruption of the second intifada, ended the rapprochement. Israelis, and other members of the Moroccan Jewish diaspora across the world, are still welcome in Morocco as tourists, despite the lack of diplomatic relations with Israel.
Relations with the Muslim community, Berdugo insisted, have not been strained because of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, “but,” he added, “it is true that our fellow citizens are fed up by some of the decisions of the Israeli government.”