Two Moroccan civil rights activists discuss their views on Moroccan-Israeli relations. Sion Assidon, head of Transparency Maroc, is fiercely opposed to any relations with the Jewish state. Meanwhile, El-Habib Belkouch, president of the Center of Human Rights and Democracy in Morocco, warns against the political and economic consequences that the absence of such relations could cause.
Two law proposals criminalizing any attempt at normalization with Israel were submitted in October 2013. Since then, relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and Israel have been making headlines and stirring controversy. Two community activists, with drastically opposing views, have discussed this matter courteously. From realpolitik to ethics and from international relationships to community activism, they set the groundwork necessary for a calm and constructive debate.
Tel Quel: Are these law proposals a necessity or the result of popular demand?
Assidon: The criticism made against those putting forward these proposals is irrelevant. The question to deal with is whether such laws are legitimate. I think the MPs who drafted these texts sought to meet the aspirations of the Moroccan people, who are showing clear solidarity with the Palestinian people. When an initiative is based on a rightful principle, it must be supported. If, however, some parties do not completely make sense in their views, then it is their problem to deal with.
Belkouch: There is indeed a form of political outbidding. Israeli policy is condemnable and Moroccan citizens disapprove of it. That is a fact. However, the problem lies in the approach adopted by some political parties. They even asked for prison sentences [for violators] and proposed to virtually deprive citizens from their nationality and impose economic and political measures, isolating the country from the world. Isn’t this a dangerous approach ... from political parties currently running the government and from others who have led the governments of Morocco for more than a decade?
Assidon: There are several dangers. Morocco purchased US F-16 fighters, whose avionics are produced and maintained by the state occupying Palestine. This gives Israel grip over a strategic weapon, and that is extremely dangerous.
Belkouch: We cannot ignore the impact that these decisions could have, and we must access the relevant data. The decisions include the possible withdrawal of Morocco from the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Euro-Mediterranean partnership (EUROMED), not to mention the free trade agreement with the United States. Therefore, the question would be: Is Morocco willing to assume the political, economic and strategic repercussions on its international relations, after the adoption of such a law? I believe that these laws will lead to Morocco’s isolation, not Israel’s.
Tel Quel: What could be the impact of sanctions on Israel?
Assidon: We are dealing with a state that does not recognize international law. There is only one way to bring it to its knees. The example of South Africa’s past situation provides plenty of useful insights: The boycott and international isolation defeated the apartheid regime. The same can be applied to Palestine, itself under the yoke of apartheid, which is a crime against humanity.
Belkouch: The context today is quite different from that of South Africa at the time. In this case, the United Nations took action. Morocco cannot ignore a global context, at the diplomatic and economic levels.
Assidon: In 2013, the disavowal of Zionism was still growing. Even the American Federation of Teachers decided to academically boycott the universities in Israel. [US Secretary of State] John Kerry recently said that the Zionist governments had two main concerns: Iran's nuclear issue and the extent of the boycott.
Tel Quel: Does the existence of a Jewish community in Morocco justify the normalization of relations with Israel?
Belkouch: There is indeed a situation that cannot be ignored. All over the world, hundreds of thousands of people live with this dual sense of belonging. They are Moroccan and Jewish. Some of them maintain relationships with both Morocco and Israel. It seems complicated to criminalize them and to criminalize simple travel between the two countries.
Assidon: Respect of international law is the first step toward refusing the normalization of relations with the occupier. The existence of a Moroccan Jewish community does not change the situation. The two issues are not related. Being Moroccan does not mean being immune. For example, a Moroccan citizen subject to the “normal” military service in Israel is committing war crimes. He must be held accountable for his actions. We say to Moroccan Jews: Morocco remains your country, but there is no reason to grant them touristic rights, which are not accessible to Palestinians deprived of their right to return.
Tel Quel: By preventing any normalization, could Morocco still be involved in the peace process?
Belkouch: Morocco has always played a positive role in the peace process in the Middle East. It is worth mentioning that the country supported the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, while others tried to destroy it. Morocco must continue to play this very important role. It must do so while expressing its opposition, as it does today, by refusing to maintain official diplomatic relations with Israel. It would be highly unusual to adopt the empty chair policy, while many Palestinians do not do so.
Assidon: The peace process has been around for so long that it has already failed several times. The conditions imposed by Israel and accepted by Kerry serve as a one-sided agreement, which isolates Palestinians in a Bantustan.
Tel Quel: The law proposals would prevent Israeli Arabs from entering Morocco. What do you think about that?
Belkouch: This is a real problem. Moroccan NGOs that are a part of networks in which many structures of Israeli civil society are active may be dissolved. Moreover, it would be a shame to lose the expertise of some of the Israeli associations, such as B’Tselem, an NGO specialized in the violations of human rights by Israel against Palestinians. At the political level, the approach of some Moroccan parties is contradictory. As far as I know, Moroccan socialists, who supported the draft law against normalization, are part of the Socialist International (SI), alongside the Israeli Labor Party.
Assidon: I agree with Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, who said that the future lay in the co-resistance against Zionism. Moroccans who advocate the Palestinian struggle should be able to go to Palestine. Similarly, Jews and Palestinians who are under occupation and involved in the co-resistance must be able to come to Morocco. Therefore, some of the articles of the draft law ought to be amended.
Tel Quel: If Morocco decides to ban relations with Israel, will it lose the support of some lobbies, concerning the Western Sahara issue?
Assidon: We cannot ignore the fundamental issues that are important to the future of the entire region, under the pretext of the so-called national interest. The Sahara issue should not blind us and make us overlook war crimes and crimes against humanity that are being committed in Palestine.
Belkouch: The Sahara is a major issue in Morocco. We cannot possibly look the other way. Pro-Moroccan lobbies have recently supported and helped us in this issue several times. These lobbies are mostly based in the United States and sometimes linked to the Jewish community. It is no secret that many of these groups are also very close to Israel. This is another example that confirms the need to assess the consequences of banning normalization of relations with Israel.