Herzog hails Moroccan king for country’s treatment of Jews during Holocaust

President praises Mohammed V, who made North African country into a safe haven from Nazi persecution during World War II, thanks current monarch for supporting community, education

File: Morocco's Mohammed V, wearing white robes, walking with the country's Grand Vizier Si Mohammed El Mokri after he placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Arc De Triomphe during a visit to Paris, France around July 4, 1930. (AP Photo)
File: Morocco's Mohammed V, wearing white robes, walking with the country's Grand Vizier Si Mohammed El Mokri after he placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the Arc De Triomphe during a visit to Paris, France around July 4, 1930. (AP Photo)

President Isaac Herzog thanked Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in a letter on Tuesday for his country’s provision of a “safe haven” for Jews during the Holocaust.

The letter — marking two years since Morocco normalized ties with Israel — was the first occasion an Israeli state official has paid tribute to the Holocaust-era actions of Morocco’s monarch at the time, according to the presidency.

Herzog expressed Israel’s gratitude to the king “and the people of Morocco who, for generations, have acted to protect the security, welfare and cultural heritage of the kingdom’s Jewish community.”

Herzog mentioned Jews settling in Morocco following their expulsion from Spain in the late 15th century, before noting the North African country’s protection of Jews during World War II.

“When millions of Jews faced the horrors of the Holocaust in the 20th century, King Mohammed V provided a safe haven for his Jewish subjects,” Herzog said in the letter, dated December 22.

“Moroccan Jews recall with pride and affection the memory of your grandfather, His Majesty King Mohammed V, who is remembered as the protector and guardian of Jews in his realm,” Herzog added.

President Isaac Herzog addresses the audience at the Morocco-Israel ‘Connect to Innovate’ conference in Casablanca, May 23, 2022. (SNC)

Mohammad V is famous for his refusal to apply anti-Jewish laws prescribed by France’s pro-German Vichy government during World War II.

Herzog praised the current king’s moves to support his country’s Jewish community, noting the decision to include Holocaust education in Moroccan schools.

Such a move would not only deepen “your people’s commitment to tolerance and understanding but send a powerful message about these essential values to countries from the Atlantic to the Gulf,” Herzog wrote.

“It was during your rule that the Hebraic character of Morocco was recognized within the kingdom’s constitution, that Jewish communal institutions throughout the country — from synagogues to cemeteries — have been renovated; and that Holocaust denial was denounced by your own statements singling out the ‘Final Solution’ as ‘one of the most tragic chapters of modern history,'” the letter read.

In this photo provided by the Moroccan Royal Palace, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, center, attends a ceremony at the Royal Palace in Tetouan, Morocco, on July 30, 2019. (Moroccan Royal Palace via AP)

The presidency said the letter was coordinated with the Foreign Ministry and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Morocco first forged a relationship with Israel during the reign of Mohammad VI’s father Hassan II, who ruled from 1961 to 1999.

Herzog wrote that Hassan II “played a critical role in building the foundations for peace upon which our futures now stand.”

King Hassan II of Morocco, right, confers with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, second from left, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, left, at the Skhirat Royal Palace in Rabat, Morocco, September 14, 1993. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Rabat cut ties with Israel in 2000 following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. But in December 2020, the two countries formalized diplomatic relations, following similar agreements earlier that year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Morocco’s Jewish community dates to antiquity and grew in the 15th century with the expulsion of Spain’s Jews.

By the 1940s, its number had grown to 250,000, representing 10 percent of the country’s population, but mass emigration followed Israel’s founding in 1948.

A Jewish community celebration in Agadir, Morocco on October 6, 2009. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

The kingdom’s Jewish community is now estimated to number some 3,000 people, the largest in North Africa.

Approximately 700,000 Israelis claim Moroccan descent and maintain strong ties with their country of origin.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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