Moroccan Jewish leader: Bills to outlaw contact with Israel will fail

Legislation proposed to Rabat parliament would make even private dealings punishable by imprisonment; local NGO says bill ‘influenced by Nazi tendencies’

A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean visits the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 2013. (Knesset)
A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean visits the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 2013. (Knesset)

A Moroccan Jewish leader said proposed bills by Moroccan lawmakers to outlaw all contact with Israelis stand no chance of passing.

The two bills, which five political parties jointly sponsored this summer and which are being reviewed by the Moroccan Parliament’s Committee on Justice and Legislation, “have zero chance of passing because the king will never allow it,” Jacky Kadoch, president of the Jewish community of Marrakech-Essaouira, said. “They are irrational.”

Among the parties backing the bills are the Islamic Justice and Development Party, the country’s largest, and the PAM party. Both bills seek to make it illegal to trade with Israeli entities and at least one bill proposes making it illegal for Israelis to enter Morocco, according to a report last month in Ya Biladi, a Moroccan daily newspaper.

Together, the five parties that support criminalizing trade and other forms of exchange with Israel control 271 seats out of the Parliament’s 395 seats.

Mohammed Jaabouk, a columnist for Ya Biladi, also said that the bills stand slim chances of passing. Even if they are approved by the committee, he wrote in an Op-Ed, “they would still need to pass the plenum, and there the government controls the agenda.”

Morocco, which is ruled by King Mohammed VI, is considered one of the Arab world’s friendliest nations toward Israel. Approximately 45,000 Israeli tourists visit Morocco annually, Kadoch estimates.

Joel Rubinfeld, a co-chairman of the European Jewish Parliament, condemned the bills as “a threat which could reverse Morocco’s extraordinary openness to Israel. The radicalism these bills reflect must not be allowed to gain the upper hand.”

Human rights groups this week denounced the planned legislation, including one Moroccan-based organization that called it “inhuman, anti-constitutional and antidemocratic” and suggested it was “influenced by Nazi tendencies.”

The bills were proposed by five parties in the Moroccan House of Representatives — including that of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. Introduced earlier this summer, and largely unnoticed at the time, one was given the heading “Criminalizing Normalization with the Israeli Entity.”

That proposed law seeks to prohibit attendance at or support for any “activity in Morocco in which a natural or legal person holding Israeli citizenship or being resident of the Israeli entity contributes, participates, or attends.”

Earlier this month, four Moroccan lawmakers unexpectedly canceled their planned participation in a conference of regional parliamentarians in Jerusalem.

“The proposal suggests to punish any economical, political, cultural, artistic or other contact with Israel or Israelis in Israel or in Morocco with two to five years of imprisonment, a fine of approximately €10,000 to €100,000, and the possibility of the removal of the right to a pension, dismissal from work or the removal of Moroccan citizenship,” Moroccan human rights group Dialogus stated Tuesday.

Dialogus — which seeks to promote tolerance and fight discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism — said the bill “violates the letter and spirit of [Morocco’s] new Constitution of July 2011, which recognizes the plurality and openness of Moroccan society and the state, as stated in the preamble of the Constitution.”

The proposal not only violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “and all international covenants and treaties on Human Rights, but also exposes an inhuman approach influenced by Nazi tendencies,” the group said in a statement.

The bill was submitted jointly by five parties that together hold more than 70 percent of seats in the kingdom’s House of Representatives, including the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces. It calls for the legal punishment of all Moroccan citizens and foreigners residing in Morocco in case of “any kind of cooperation or exchange with the Israeli entity… in any sector, political or economic or commercial or financial or cultural or athletic or artistic or tourist or press, and whether the parties of this cooperation or exchange are natural or legal, entities of public or private law… and whether the cooperation is direct or indirect.”

The International Institute for Education and Research on Antisemitism, which is based in London and Berlin, condemned the bill. It pointed out, however, that it might never be signed into actual law.

“In many aspects of Moroccan politics, ‘the Palace’ still remains in power, especially when it comes to questions of foreign policy,” the institute’s Kim Robin Stoller wrote in an article Wednesday. “So there is a chance that the proposal might not be discussed or voted upon in the parliament — especially if there is enough internal and international opposition to it.”

Despite the absence of official diplomatic relations between Rabat and Jerusalem, thousands of Israelis visit Morocco every year, mostly tourists and businesspeople but also politicians participating in international conferences.

However, “Morocco’s world standing as a relatively tolerant country might change for the worse, if the law proposed by the majority of Moroccan parliamentarian groups passes,” Stoller warned. “Many observers see this as a bad omen for Moroccan democratic development and relations with Western countries as well as with its own minority groups.”

Moroccan Parliament building in Rabat (photo credit: Treasury Tag/Wikimedia Commons)
Moroccan Parliament building in Rabat (photo credit: Treasury Tag/Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier in November, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, a regional forum with observer status at the United Nations, conducted a high-level visit to the Middle East to discuss current peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Four Moroccan lawmakers were scheduled to travel to Israel for meetings in the Knesset but canceled at the last moment. According to Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, PAM President Francesco Amoruso said the Moroccans decided to bow out after receiving “harsh criticism from the media” in their home country.

“I regret the non-appearance of the MPs from Morocco. We made great efforts to enable them to enter Israel and were expecting their arrival,” Edelstein said. “Our door is always open to anyone, and we will happily continue to host discussions about cooperation between the countries of the region, for the future of our children and grandchildren.”

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