Moroccan schools to teach Jewish history and culture

Moroccan schools to teach Jewish history and culture
This file handout photo provided by the Moroccan Royal Palace on January 15, 2020, shows Morocco's King Mohammed VI (R) during a visit to the "Bayt Dakira" (House of Memory) museum, in the Atlantic coastal city of Essaouira. (Moroccan Royal Palace photo via AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2020

Moroccan schools to teach Jewish history and culture

Moroccan schools to teach Jewish history and culture
  • Morocco is the fourth Arab nation since August to announce to normalize relations with Israel
  • The US-brokered deal followed those of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan

RABAT, Morocco: Jewish history and culture in Morocco will soon be part of the school curriculum — a “first” in the region and in the North African country, where Islam is the state religion.
The decision “has the impact of a tsunami,” said Serge Berdugo, secretary-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco.
It “is a first in the Arab world,” he told AFP from Casablanca.
For years, although the kingdom had no official relationship with Israel, thousands of Jews of Moroccan origin visited the land of their ancestors, to celebrate religious holidays or make pilgrimages, including from Israel.
But Morocco this week became the fourth Arab nation since August to announce a US-brokered deal to normalize relations with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said liaison offices would be reopened in Tel Aviv and Rabat, which Morocco closed in 2000 at the start of the second Palestinian uprising, and full diplomatic relations would be established “as rapidly as possible.”
Morocco confirmed the deal, saying King Mohammed VI had told outgoing US President Donald Trump his country had agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel “with minimal delay.”

Diverse identity
The decision to add Jewish history and culture to lessons was discreetly launched before the diplomatic deal was announced.
Part of an ongoing revamp of Morocco’s school curriculum since 2014, the lessons will be included from next term for children in their final year of primary school, aged 11, the education ministry said.
The move aims to “highlight Morocco’s diverse identity,” according to Fouad Chafiqi, head of academic programs at the ministry.
Morocco’s Jewish community has been present since antiquity and grew over the centuries, particularly with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by the Catholic kings after 1492.
At the end of the 1940s, Jewish Moroccans numbered about 250,000 — some 10 percent of the population.
Many left after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and the community now numbers around 3,000, still the largest in North Africa.
Jewish presence in Moroccan culture now appears in the primary-level social education curriculum, in a section dedicated to Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah, known as Mohammed III.
The 18th-century Alawite ruler chose the port of Mogador and its fortress, built by Portuguese colonists, to establish the coastal city of Essaouira.
Under his leadership, the diplomatic and commercial center became the only city in the Islamic world counting a majority Jewish population, and at one point had 37 synagogues.
“While there was a Jewish presence in Morocco before the 18th century, the only reliable historical records date back to that time,” Chafiqi said.

'Inoculation against extremism'
Two US-based Jewish associations — the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP) — said they “worked closely with the Kingdom of Morocco and the Moroccan Jewish community” on the “groundbreaking” academic reform.
“Ensuring Moroccan students learn about the totality of their proud history of tolerance, including Morocco’s philo-Semitism, is an inoculation against extremism,” leaders of the two organizations said in a statement published on Twitter last month.
Also in November, Education Minister Said Amzazi and the heads of two Moroccan associations signed a partnership agreement “for the promotion of values of tolerance, diversity and coexistence in schools and universities.”
The accord was symbolically inked at Essaouira’s “House of Memory,” which celebrates the historic coexistence of the city’s Jewish and Muslim communities.
Among those present was Andre Azoulay, a member of the local Jewish community who is also an adviser to King Mohammed VI.
The king, Morocco’s “Commander of the Faithful,” has pushed for a tolerant Islam that ensures freedom of worship for Jews and foreign Christians.
In September 2018, at a UN roundtable, he emphasized the role of education in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.
Morocco “has never erased its Jewish memory,” said Zhor Rehihil, curator of Casablanca’s Moroccan Jewish Museum — the only one of its kind in the region.
History teacher Mohammed Hatimi said introducing Jewish identity into Morocco’s education program would help nurture “future citizens conscious of their diverse heritage.”
The move will also be part of a revision of the secondary school curriculum set for next year, according to Chafiqi from the education ministry.


Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections
Updated 16 January 2021

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections
  • The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide
  • The 2005 Palestinian presidential vote saw Abbas elected with 62 percent support to replace the late Yasser Arafat

RAMALLAH: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday announced dates for the first Palestinian elections in more than 15 years, setting legislative polls for May 22 and a July 31 presidential vote.
Abbas’s Fatah party, which controls the Palestinian Authority based in the occupied West Bank, and the Hamas group, who hold power in Gaza, have for years expressed interest in taking Palestinians back to the polls.
A long-standing rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions was seen as a leading factor in stalling progress toward a new vote.
But Fatah and Hamas have lately been engaged in unity talks, reaching an agreement in principle in September to hold elections in 2021.
Hamas on Friday welcomed Abbas’s announcement.
“In recent months, we have worked to overcome obstacles in order to reach this day,” it said in a statement.
It added that it looked to “free elections in which voters can express themselves without pressure and without restrictions, in all fairness and transparency.”
A statement on the official Palestinian Wafa news agency said Abbas has signed “a presidential decree concerning elections,” specifying the May and July dates.
“This announcement was eagerly awaited,” Palestinian analyst Arif Jaffal, head of the Arab World Democracy and Electoral Monitor, told AFP.
“It is a very important step,” he said.
The 2005 Palestinian presidential vote saw Abbas elected with 62 percent support to replace the late Yasser Arafat.
There has been no indication from Fatah as to whether the 85-year-old Abbas intends to seek re-election.
A rare poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research carried out last year said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Abbas in a presidential election.

The statement from Abbas said he expects polls will be held “in all governorates of Palestine, including east Jerusalem,” which was annexed by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War but is considered occupied territory.
Israel bans all Palestinian Authority activity in east Jerusalem, and there was no indication the Jewish state would allow a Palestinian vote within the city.
Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces his own re-election contest in March, describes Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said his government “was ready to get things going to facilitate the electoral process, in total transparency, while waiting for pluralism.”
Some 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, while the densely populated Gaza Strip is home to two million.
The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide.
The polls resulted in a brief unity government but it soon collapsed and in 2007, bloody clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between the two principal Palestinian factions, with Hamas ultimately seizing control of Gaza.
Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift.
But experts have said intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks have taken on greater urgency following a series of US-brokered normalization agreements signed between Israel and four Arab states.
The deals to normalize ties with Israel signed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan were condemned across the Palestinian political spectrum.
They also broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognition of Israel until it reached an agreement to end the Palestinian conflict that included the creation of Palestinian state, with a capital in east Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders have also voiced hope that the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden will lead to renewed diplomacy on the Palestinian cause.
The PA cut ties with President Donald Trump’s administration, accusing it of egregious bias toward Israel.