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Opening of Israel news channel in Morocco prompts backlash

Employees of I24, work at the news channel's headquarters in the Israeli port city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv, on July 15, 2021. - I24 News which went live on July 17, 2013, is an Israeli international 24-hour news channel that broadcasts in French, English and Arabic. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Employees of I24, work at the news channel's headquarters in the Israeli port city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv, on July 15, 2021 [EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images]

A decision by Israel's i24News to open two offices in Morocco has caused widespread anger among the local media and members of the public.

The offices in Rabat and Casablanca are thought to be the first instances of an Israeli media company operating in the kingdom, since Morocco agreed to resume diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv as part of the wider US-brokered Abraham Accords signed in 2020.

The move follows the opening of a Dubai office in the UAE last summer, which along with Bahrain were the first Arab states to sign the normalisation agreement in Washington.

According to Middle East Eye (MEE), the owner and director of the channel have Moroccan roots. The father of Franck Melloul, the channel's French CEO is Moroccan, while its owner Patrick Drahi was born in Casablanca before moving to France aged 15.

Two anonymous sources informed MEE that the opening of i24 in the country was facilitated largely due to the backing of Moroccan culture minister Mehdi Bensaid.

READ: Morocco plans to endorse Jewish councils

Drahi was among a delegation of 500 Israeli journalists, artists, diplomats and businessmen who attended a gala evening in Rabat on 30 May to launch the Moroccan offices.

At the launch event, Melloul was quoted as saying: "Even before the signing of the normalization agreement between Israel and Morocco, and actually throughout i24NEWS' activities in the past several years, we have seen that the channel has a loyal audience in Morocco."

However, the launch of i24 in Morocco led to a backlash, including the release of a statement widely shared on social media by 80 Moroccan journalists who stated they followed "with great concern the dangerous path of normalization pursued by the Moroccan State, since December 2020, through several agreements and decisions that allow the institutions of the Zionist occupation to desecrate our country."

The joint letter also criticised the timing of the launch, stating that it came "at a time when the wound is still raw from the assassination in cold blood and in front of the eyes of the world of our fellow journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the [Israeli] occupation army".

READ: NGOs warn of 'Zionist infiltration' of Morocco institutes, universities

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