Israeli President Isaac Herzog thanked Morocco’s King Mohammed VI for his country’s provision of “safe haven” for Jews during the Holocaust, in a missive seen by AFP on Tuesday.
The letter — marking two years since Morocco normalised ties with Israel — was the first occasion an Israeli state official has paid tribute to the Holocaust-era actions of Morocco’s monarch at the time, according to the presidency.
Herzog expressed Israel’s gratitude to the king “and the people of Morocco who, for generations, have acted to protect the security, welfare and cultural heritage of the kingdom’s Jewish community”.
Herzog mentioned Jews settling in Morocco following their expulsion from Spain in the late 15th century, before noting the North African country’s protection of Jews during World War II.
“When millions of Jews faced the horrors of the Holocaust in the 20th century, King Mohammed V provided a safe haven for his Jewish subjects,” Herzog said in the letter, dated December 22.
“Moroccan Jews recall with pride and affection the memory of your grandfather, His Majesty King Mohammed V, who is remembered as the protector and guardian of Jews in his realm,” Herzog added.
Mohammad V is famous for his refusal to apply anti-Jewish laws prescribed by France’s pro-German Vichy government during World War II.
Herzog praised the current king’s moves to support his country’s Jewish community, noting the decision to include Holocaust education in Moroccan schools.
Such a move would not only deepen “your people’s commitment to tolerance and understanding but send a powerful message about these essential values to countries from the Atlantic to the Gulf”, Herzog wrote.
The presidency said the letter was coordinated with Israel’s foreign ministry and the state’s Yad Vashem Holocaust centre.
Rabat cut relations with Israel in 2000 following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.
But in December 2020, the two countries formalised ties, following similar agreements earlier that year between Israel and Gulf countries the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Before then, Israel had reached peace treaties with neighbouring Egypt and Jordan, in 1979 and 1994 respectively.
Morocco’s Jewish community dates to antiquity and grew in the 15th century with the expulsion of Spain’s Jews.
By the 1940s its number had grown to 250,000, representing 10 percent of the country’s population, but mass emigration followed Israel’s founding in 1948.
The kingdom’s Jewish community is now estimated to number some 3,000 people, the largest in North Africa.
Approximately 700,000 Israelis claim Moroccan descent and maintain strong ties with their country of origin.
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