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Israel’s Lapid reopens liaison office in Morocco, is moved by synagogue visit

After reopening a liaison office in Rabat, Morocco, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is sung to at the refurbished Beth El synagogue in Casablanca.
Yair Lapid in Casablanca

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid inaugurated Israel’s liaison office in Rabat, Morocco, on Aug. 12. He was joined by Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head Ram Ben Barak and Israel’s charge d’affaires in the Moroccan capital, David Govrin. Moroccan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohcine Jazouli also took part.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita did not attend; he had met extensively with Lapid on Aug. 11 following Lapid’s arrival. Lapid said that he and Bourita had agreed to further upgrade diplomatic ties, restored to the level of liaison offices in December in the framework of the Abraham Accords. Reportedly, Bourita will dedicate the Moroccan Embassy in Israel in October or November, depending on the coronavirus pandemic. Lapid said the flight that brings Bourita to Israel would be the first direct Air Morocco flight to Israel.

"Strategically, what we are creating here is a diplomatic axis of Israel, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which presents a pragmatic alternative to religious extremism," said Lapid.

During his meeting with Bourita, Lapid passed on a letter from Israeli President Isaac Herzog to King Mohammed VI, inviting him to visit Israel. “I value the broad and successful cooperation between the Kingdom of Morocco and the State of Israel in many areas, including security, economic affairs, culture, tourism, medicine and agriculture. … I must also emphasize the remarkable contribution of the distinguished Jewish community of Morocco to world Jewry and to the State of Israel. Your majesty, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in the near future. We are committed to deepening the strength of our relations and I hope that they further expand and flourish over time,” read the letter.

From the moment Lapid embarked on the plane to Rabat, he began tweeting constantly, posting photos from the visit and video clips. This flow of tweets and the large Israeli delegation — and the fact that Cohen who was born in Mogador, Morocco — reflect the importance Jerusalem accords to the visit and to the reopening of the diplomatic office in the Moroccan capital. The two countries first established diplomatic ties in 1995, following the 1993 Oslo Accord. But in 2000, on the backdrop of the second intifada, Morocco severed the ties. The Israeli mission in Rabat and the Moroccan mission in Tel Aviv were closed, but Israeli tourists were allowed to continue visiting Morocco. In fact, thousands of Israelis, including many of Moroccan origin, have visited the kingdom in the past two decades.

In that respect, restoring ties with Morocco is much different than normalizing ties with Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates. The emotional component is very much present since the beginning of the process, with Jews of Moroccan origin, both in Israel and abroad, encouraging every step of the way.

“This ancient peace and friendship is being restored by people who rethink and redefine historic disputes,” Lapid said after he and Bourita signed three agreements for bilateral cooperation Aug. 11.

Lapid ended his Morocco tour by visiting the refurbished Beth El synagogue in Casablanca. Singer and composer Shimon Buskila — who was born in Israel but whose family is from North Africa and who has become synonymous with Israeli/North African- influenced Oriental music — sang traditional Jewish songs in honor of Lapid’s visit to the synagogue. Lapid described this as an exceptionally moving moment.

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