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Israeli envoy Erdan hails joint Hanukkah event

There was ‘never any persecution’ of Moroccan Jews, Rabat’s UN envoy says

Speaking at Hanukkah lighting ceremony hosted by Israel’s UN mission, Omar Hilale lauds Morocco’s treatment of its Jewish community, downplaying some historical tensions

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Morocco's Ambassador to the UN Omar Hilale lights Hanukkah candles with his Israeli counterpart Gilad Erdan in New York on December 17, 2020. (Screen capture/Zoom)
Morocco's Ambassador to the UN Omar Hilale lights Hanukkah candles with his Israeli counterpart Gilad Erdan in New York on December 17, 2020. (Screen capture/Zoom)

NEW YORK — Morocco’s Ambassador to the UN said Thursday that his country’s Jews never faced persecution, glossing over some historical tensions, a week after Rabat’s decision to normalize relations with Israel.

“We are very proud that in the history of Morocco, there was never any persecution of Jewish people. They were just… part of our society,” Omar Hilale said at a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony in New York hosted by Israel’s UN Mission and the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy.

Morocco is home to North Africa’s largest Jewish community, which has been there for centuries and grew with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic kings from 1492.

The Moroccan Jewish population reached about 250,000 people in the late 1940s, making up 10 percent of the national population. But the vast majority left after the creation of Israel in 1948, many of them fleeing local hostilities directed at them over the establishment of the Jewish state. About 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco today.

Much of the remaining community celebrated last Thursday’s announcement by US President Donald Trump that Morocco had agreed to re-establish its diplomatic relations with Israel, as Washington recognized Rabat’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region.

But Hilale said his participation in the holiday ceremony hosted by his Israeli counterpart Gilad Erdan “should not be seen as a surprise or as an extraordinary image.”

A Moroccan Jew observes the holiday of Sukkot at a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Marrakesh, Morocco, October 13, 2017. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

Hilale highlighted his government’s close ties with the Moroccan Jewish minority, particularly during the Holocaust “when Europeans were sending Jews to concentration camps.”

“We are very happy to be sending another signal of the commitment of Morocco to what Hanukkah represents — the end of the darkness… the beginning of the light,” Hilale added.

Erdan said at the ceremony that the latest normalization agreement “fulfills the dream of many Israelis of Moroccan heritage who remain proud of their roots and have a great love for the country.”

“By embracing our differences rather than viewing them as a threat, we have created new incredible opportunities for the future,” Erdan.

“If you would have told me just a few months ago that I would be lighting Hanukkah candles with my friends from the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, I would’ve said, ‘Impossible.’ But here we are sending a message of hope to the young people of our region that anything is possible,” Erdan said, naming three of the five countries who have normalized relations with Israel in recent months, along with Sudan and Bhutan.

The Hanukkah event included virtual messages from the Emirati and Bahraini ambassadors, along with the UN envoys of for the US, India, Australia, Albania, Guatemala and Rwanda.

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