Shas leader Aryeh Deri: 'This is the day God has made'

‘We’ve waited so long for today’: Moroccan Israelis fete normalization agreement

Members of the roughly 1 million strong ethnic group, which retains deep cultural ties to the North African country, celebrate ‘dream come true’ after Trump announcement

Members of the Ivgy family celebrate the Jewish Moroccan celebration of Mimouna, in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, April 15, 2020. (Edi Israel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Members of the Ivgy family celebrate the Jewish Moroccan celebration of Mimouna, in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, April 15, 2020. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

Israelis of Moroccan descent celebrated Thursday’s decision by the North African kingdom to normalize relations with the Jewish state, calling it both “a natural agreement” and one they had long awaited.

“I have tears in my eyes,” Dimona resident Avi Bohbot, 30, told the Ynet news site. His parents immigrated to Israel from Morocco and he currently organizes student trips to the country.

“This is perhaps the greatest news I have received in my life,” he said. “I’ve connected with that place. I am sure there will be Moroccans who will come to Israel.”

Shimon Ohayon, a former Yisrael Beytenu MK who now chairs the Alliance of Moroccan Immigrants, told Ynet that he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a month and a half ago and that the premier asked him for help with contacts in Rabat.

“Netanyahu told me that he would make an effort, and he did,” Ohayon said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend the Jewish Moroccan celebration of Mimouna, in Hadera, on April 17, 2017. (Ido Erez/Pool)

“This is a very natural agreement because Morocco is known for being a country with sympathetic relations with Israelis visitors. Once the Abraham Accords began, it was clear that Morocco would be next in line,” he said, referring to the normalization agreements that began with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Lawmakers of Moroccan descent were also quick to express their joy with the deal.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri. (File: Flash90)

“This is the day God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it,” said Aryeh Deri, the interior minister and chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

“We who were born in Morocco, we and the people of Morocco all over the world, have been waiting so long for this day,” he added in a statement; Deri was born in Meknes, in northern-central Morocco.

“I was born in Israel, but Morocco flows through my veins,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton of the Blue and White party. “Today is a holiday for me,”

“I hope to return to Morocco soon for an official visit — this time as a minister in the Israeli government,” he added.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said: “Generations of Moroccan Jews have dreamed of peace with the country where they were born and where our culture is so deeply rooted. May the blessing of Allah come upon us and upon them.”

Likud Minister Miri Regev attends a Mimouna celebration on April 27, 2019. (Flash90)

Moroccan Jewry’s origins date back 2,000 years, to the destruction of the Second Temple and exile. In the modern era, the community reached a high of some 250,000 in the early 1940s, when Sultan Mohammed V resisted Nazi pressure for their deportation. Numbers dwindled with the establishment of Israel, and today only some 2,000-3,000 Jews remain, but hundreds of thousands of Israelis are proud of their Moroccan origins. Trump’s senior envoy Jared Kushner on Thursday put that number at “over a million.”

The Mimouna festival, which the community traditionally celebrates right after Passover ends, has become a fixture on the Israeli cultural calendar, with countless people barbequing in parks and politicians rushing to as many Mimouna celebrations as possible, eating mufletot and other Jewish-Moroccan delicacies.

While Israeli tourists have begun discovering the Gulf only very recently, they have been flocking to Rabat, Marrakech, Casablanca, Tangiers and Fez via third countries for many years. Once the two countries establish diplomatic relations and open direct air-links, that number can be expected to increase dramatically.

Following the 1995 Oslo Accords, Morocco and Israel opened mutual “liaison offices,” but they were closed a few years later after the Palestinian Second Intifada broke out in 2000.

Both Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the long and deep ties binding Morocco and Israel in their statements on the historic agreement.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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