Demonstrators burn Israeli flag in Morocco amid probe into misconduct at mission

Around 100 protestors rally against normalization in wake of recall of top Israeli envoy after allegations; initial investigation suggests sexual and financial improprieties

Moroccan demonstrators burn an Israeli flag at a protest in Rabat on September 9, 2022. (Fadel Senna/AFP)
Moroccan demonstrators burn an Israeli flag at a protest in Rabat on September 9, 2022. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

Dozens of demonstrators protested outside Morocco’s parliament Friday against the kingdom’s normalization of ties with Israel, and after the Jewish state recalled its top envoy from Rabat amid a probe into alleged sexual and financial misconduct at the recently-opened Israeli mission.

Around 100 people chanted slogans against the rapprochement between Morocco and Israel, criticizing Israeli chargé d’affaires David Govrin and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

“Today, we are in front of the parliament to protest against the hideous acts” allegedly committed by Govrin, said Amine Abdelhamid, a pro-Palestinian activist against normalization between Morocco and Israel.

“Morocco’s dignity is not for sale, the normalization must end,” he said.

Protesters burned an Israeli flag at the end of the demonstration.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Inspector General Hagay Behar was rushed to Morocco last week after allegations were leveled at the head of the mission, Govrin, regarding serious complaints about the functioning of the office, which opened last year.

Moroccan demonstrators lift banners against the normalization of ties with Israel at a protest in Rabat on September 9, 2022. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

The most serious complaint was that “a senior Israeli official” at the mission had sexually exploited several local women, something that could lead to a serious diplomatic incident with Morocco.

There were also complaints of sexual harassment within the mission.

The ministry is also investigating a range of financial and administrative problems, including the disappearance of a very valuable gift sent by the king of Morocco on the occasion of Israel’s Independence Day.

Such gifts have to be registered and turned over to the government, but the item appears to have disappeared with no record.

It was also investigating reports that a local businessman and Jewish community leader, identified as Samy Cohen, a friend of Govrin, was involved in hosting several Israeli ministers, including Yair Lapid, Ayelet Shaked and Gideon Sa’ar, and initiating meetings between them and local officials, even though he was not in any way officially affiliated with the mission.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, center, with envoy to Morocco David Govrin, left, and Jewish community leader Samy Cohen, June 20, 2022. (Screen capture: Instagram)

The team was also investigating a reported feud between Govrin and the mission’s security officer.

The decision to recall Govrin was made by Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz following an initial investigation carried out by a senior Israeli delegation that arrived in Morocco Monday to collect statements from ministry staff.

According to a report by the Ynet news site, there was a general sense of chaos at the ministry Tuesday, with the outlet quoting ministry officials as saying “everyone is at each other’s throats.”

The report did not provide details of the investigation but said that a few of the complaints were made by former employees of the Israeli mission in Rabat whom Govrin had fired on different occasions.

Details of the investigation, first reported Monday by the Kan public broadcaster, were confirmed to Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, by the ministry.

Govrin is currently in Israel and is involved in the ongoing investigation, an Israeli diplomatic source said.

Moroccan authorities have not commented on the matter.

Israel’s new ambassador to Morocco, David Govrin. (Courtesy)

Morocco became the third Arab state to normalize ties with Israel under US-brokered deals in 2020, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Israel’s liaison office in Rabat had been closed in late 2000, when Morocco decided to call off the existing low-level ties between the two countries with the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Though the countries’ liaison offices were closed some 20 years ago, the properties remained in their respective possessions, allowing Jerusalem and Rabat to rapidly reopen them.

Initially, Morocco and Israel were maintaining liaison offices in one another’s countries but they plan to establish full embassies in the future.

Recent months have seen a series of top-level visits by Israeli officials to Morocco and the two countries have signed a host of economic, cultural and defense cooperation agreements.

Govrin, 58, is considered a senior and experienced diplomat and has served at the Foreign Ministry since 1989. He speaks fluent Arabic, and served as the ambassador to Egypt from 2016 to August 2020.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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