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Normalising links with Israel in defiance of public opinion

Since the rise of Islamists to power in Morocco, activities have come to light that hint at the country’s normalisation process in its relations with Israel. For instance, in its 2013 annual report, the Moroccan Observatory against Normalisation, a multi-current grassroots group for advocacy and activism against Israel, listed numerous normalising public figures, institutions and engagements. Feeling the mounting threat that the normalisation of relationships with Israel presents to the social and ethical fabric of Morocco, the monitoring group prepared a proposed law to criminalise official or civil society activities that would result in such links. Even so, despite public activism, street demonstrations and meetings with parliamentary groups to pass the criminalisation law, the level of normalisation appears to be increasing.

The means by which normalisation efforts penetrate Moroccan society are many. They include academic activities such as frequent visits to and participation in conferences organised by the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies, which actually try to deepen ethnic, cultural and racial rifts in Morocco. Israel, in its attempt to legitimise its crimes, draws an analogy between its occupation of historical Palestine, its current atrocities against the Palestinians, and Arab occupation of North Africa in early Islam.

The plan depends on a number of contradictory elements. The first is likening Islam’s early years to the Holocaust, even though the Palestinians, who are facing genocide at the hands of the Zionists today, did not themselves commit any crimes against Europe’s Jews. The aim is to convince the world, the Moroccan Amazigh (Berbers) and especially the Arabs and Muslims, that since they occupied North Africa, then occupation must be accepted in Palestine. Moroccan pro-Palestine freedom activists responded by pointing out that all nations which have faced genocide have had the right to resist and seek liberation; as such, Palestinian resistance is entirely legitimate. Some Moroccan activists noted that some citizens are pushed to obtain redress price for alleged abuses against their ancestors while Israel blockades Palestinians in Gaza openly while its prisons hold around 6,000 Palestinian prisoners. The paradox lies in legitimising an occupation we can actually witness while relying on an abuse that the current social fabric of Morocco falsifies.

The second claim is that the rights of the Amazigh cultural movement are confiscated by Islamists and supporters of nationalist sentiments. The solution that Israel-backed activists propose is secularism and cultural diversity. As far as the latter is concerned, Morocco is described frequently as a social and linguistic mosaic wherein citizens enjoy unity within diversity without relinquishing social cohesion. That is, the Moroccan social fabric has always been pluralistic and diverse, especially when it comes to culture and language. Yet, for secularism, the paradox lies in overlooking the fact that Israel is not a secular country. It is the only entity on Earth that seeks recognition for a religiously monolithic population where religion-based parties govern the state and civil society.

What the plan fails to notice is that the racism, secularism and past atrocities cards unite rather than divide Moroccans. Historically, the dynasties that governed Morocco before the Alawites were racially-equal in number: three Amazigh and three Arabs. Morocco witnessed its strongest days and spread Islam the most to the north and south under Amazigh, rather than Arab dynasties. Today, accelerated by the recognition of Tamazight as a national language and common heritage in the 2011 constitutional amendments, public policies simply reflect deeply-rooted Arab-Amazigh relations.

Furthermore, when the racial divide-and-rule game fails, normalisation shifts its focus towards less threatening aspects such as sports, art and diplomatic or economic ties. A recent report on foreign investments revealed that Israel invests 1.27 billion dirhams (around $127 million) in Morocco, amounting to 0.8 per cent of the total investments in the Casablanca Stock Exchange during the 2014 fiscal year. The amount appears to be relatively small, but reaching Morocco’s financial markets demonstrates Israel’s ability to divert attention from its involvement in Moroccan society and buy the silence of certain officials, which is itself dependant on the strong French influence in Morocco’s politics and economy.

Another normalisation opportunity will occur with Shimon Peres’s forthcoming visit to Marrakech. Invited by the first Middle East and Africa Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the former Israeli president is expected to discuss such key issues as “education, public health systems, youth employment, infrastructure and natural resource management”. Activists such as the National Working Group for Palestine denounced the visit immediately it was announced and are expected to organise protests at the conference venue. The contradiction highlighted by the activists is that Peres was responsible for destroying the same demographic, social and economic infrastructure that the conference seeks to remedy or promote.

The Islamist-led government, which includes a participant who was on board the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010, denies any normalisation of relations with Israel. Its denial does not contradict the hidden relations, since the government constitutionally only leads the country and does not control all segments within Morocco’s nascent democracy.

Thus, given the governmental and public renouncing of normalisation, the burden lies mainly on civil society, especially Islamist and leftist groups wherein many Amazigh are in lead roles. The capacities that the new constitution has allocated to civil society enables the provision of clear and ample answers to the questions about who supports and generates political benefits from normalisation activities. This is especially relevant since international pressure has sent the proposed criminalisation law into the political wilderness.

The writer is a Morocco-based researcher in media, society and MENA politics.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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