Once the proposed visit to Morocco of Israel’s former President Shimon Peres appeared on the radar of human rights advocates and anti-Zionism civil society, news of advocacy protests went viral. Though the Al-Aqsa Intifada hindered Peres’s earlier visit in 2010 as the King of Morocco rejected a meeting request, what pushed the Clintons and Moroccan officials to rethink the 2015 invitation was the direct accusation of responsibility for war crimes. This time, advocacy and activism against the visit took different, yet complementary, forms to send a strong message to Peres and those considering any future normalisation attempts.
The first was media condemnation, especially on social networks. Caricatures of Peres with bloody teeth were Photoshopped and images with a boycott sign circulated. Peres’s crimes against Palestine were also listed and shared. Tweet updates and lengthy threads called upon the government to bear its responsibility and ban the visit.
Sit-ins were organised in Rabat, Casablanca, Tetouan and Meknes on the day that Peres was expected to set foot in Marrakech. The news of the cancellation of the visit did not deter activists from holding the public gatherings in any case, even though the purpose shifted from calling for cancelling the visit to celebrating it being called off; these protests accentuated Moroccans’ refusal to build any relationship with Zionist criminals. They also highlighted the belief that the natural place for Zionists is an international court rather than an air-conditioned conference venue. Activists stressed that Moroccan civil society is able to differentiate between war criminals and legitimate conference-goers.
The third type of activism involved filing a lawsuit against Peres at the Rabat tribunal. Moroccan law allows the filing of war crimes or genocide charges when the victims are Moroccans, no matter where the crimes have taken place. Lawyers accused Peres of being responsible for the killing of a Moroccan lady, Roqaya Abounnaja, in Gaza in January 2009, in addition to crimes against humanity in Palestine generally.
Clearly, such activism on three fronts negated the Israeli media accusation that Hamas was responsible for the cancellation. It also demonstrated that Moroccan society is increasingly sensitive about attempts to normalise relations with Israel.
The implications of cancelling the visit are many. It is true that ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni managed to visit Morocco when invited by a local think-tank in 2009 despite objections. Though the visit occurred after the assault on Gaza that she had launched with her “enough is enough” speech in Cairo, the pre-Arab Spring atmosphere of political and social regression facilitated the extension of the humiliation from Palestinians to Moroccans.
In post-Arab Spring Morocco, the Islamist-led government seems more activist-trustworthy; it expresses its readiness to close normalisation possibilities whenever they occur. In the current context, the absence of Peres meant a big loss for the body which invited him. The Clinton Global Initiative depended on the full success of the forum as part of Hillary Clinton’s PR campaign in the race for the White House. The Clintons invited Peres – as a sort of guest of honour – to talk about key issues in the region such as youth development, infrastructure or the rights to basic needs like water and equal opportunity; it was probably an attempt to get the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC’s support for Hillary’s presidential bid. Morocco was accused of donating 1 million dirhams to the Clinton Foundation to sponsor the Marrakech event, most probably in order to build strong relations with the presidential candidate. Thus, for the Clintons, Peres’s participation was more strategically important than the OCP (Office of Phosphates) donation, while for Morocco, agreeing to the visit would also have led to stronger relations with the Clintons. None of these factors prevented officials from cancelling the visit out of respect for public opinion.
From the point of view of both human rights defenders and the government, it is necessary to address Israel’s apparent ability to attract Moroccan activists and politicians. Pro-Israel activists, dismayed by the cancellation, reacted immediately and jumped to attend meetings and academic events. Some expressed their shock while others announced visits to the Zionist entity.
Mounir Kejji, an Amazigh activist, for instance, shared numerous photos of his most recent visit to Israel, expressing pride over it. In his social network statuses, he challenges anti-Israel activists while carrying the Amazigh flag. He described them as “Palestinian cause traders” and asked them to spend their money on Moroccans instead of donating it to Palestine. His words echo the notorious slogan of “Taza before Gaza”, meaning caring about Morocco before Palestine. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to understand how visiting Israel, extolling the charms of an aggressor and hailing its brutal occupation can push Moroccans to care about their immediate environment and forget about the hardships that Palestinians undergo. For anti-Zionist activists, economic-cultural privileges that would accrue from servitude to an occupying force are the only explanation they see for such visits. Otherwise, those who march for a free Palestine are the same who protest for a more democratic Morocco.
This week, the Rabat sit-in to condemn the death sentences against Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt remembered the indicted Palestinians. Participants believe that announcing the death sentences on the Nakba anniversary is indicative of more servitude to Israeli coercion. Even so, to further respect the public will, the anti-normalisation law needs to be revived. If not, the image of Moroccan pro-Palestine advocacy will continue to be tarnished by economic-cultural profiteers who may turn into political proxies who threaten Morocco’s social cohesion.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.