(JTA) — Several hundred Moroccan Jews protested against U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s characterization of Western Sahara as occupied by the North African kingdom.
The April 30 protest in Mazagan, 120 mile southwest of Rabat, was part of Mimouna, a traditional North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, and it featured group singing of Laayouna Ainiya, a Moroccan patriotic song from the 1970s about the contested area, the Assabah daily reported last week.
Last month, Ban angered Moroccan authorities when he said they were “occupying” the Western Sahara after they ordered the expulsion of 80 staffers from the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.
The U.N. General Assembly endorsed that view in 1979, declaring Morocco an occupying force in the former Spanish colony and affirming the “inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara” to independence. But Morocco, which in recent years has come under increasing pressure to allow self-rule in the area, claims it as part of its territory.
Sam Ben Chetrit, president of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry, told JTA on Friday that while he is not familiar with the details of the gathering at Mazagan, “it is true that Moroccan Jewry in the kingdom and outside stand united in defense of Morocco’s claim on Sahara, and against those who try to portray Morocco as a foreign occupier in its own land.”
Ben Chetrit, who lives in Israel but travels to Morocco frequently, said this support is part “of the Jewish People’s gratitude to Morocco’s royal house, government and people, who have done more than any other nation in the Middle East and many nations elsewhere to preserve Jewish heritage and protect Jewish citizens.” He said he recently penned a letter to Ban to express “the utter indignation” of Moroccan Jews at the U.N.’s approach to Western Sahara.
Morocco is one of the Arab world’s friendliest nations toward Israel, and its government has spent millions of dollars on restoring and preserving Jewish heritage sites.
The Jewish state’s establishment triggered the departure of 250,000 Moroccan Jews — the vast majority of Moroccan Jewry — amid at least three deadly pogroms perpetrated against them between 1938 and 1954, according to Shmuel Trigano, a lecturer of political sociology at Paris X University Nanterre.
Zionism was outlawed in Morocco in 1959 and defined a “serious crime,” but the country ended that official animosity in the late 1980s.