The shift toward peace in the Middle East took yet another new turn as Morocco announced it will not only normalize relations with Israel, but teach Jewish history and culture as part of its school curriculum. Morocco’s patchwork demographic and complex history, paired with this first-time educational initiative, makes this news a stand-out item in a series of historic regional developments under the Trump administration.
“A first in the Arab world … [This] has the impact of a tsunami.” – Serge Berdugo, secretary-general of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco
It’s important to distinguish that while some are framing the news as under the umbrella of the Arab world, Morocco is actually a historically and ethnically diverse North African country. It also has Arab and European colonial history. That diversity is, in part, the reason why Morocco may be the best place to launch an educational initiative against antisemitism and toward promoting friendly ties with Israel.
As The Times of Israel explains, Morocco also has a long Jewish history dating back to 1492:
“Morocco’s Jewish community has been present since antiquity and grew over the centuries, particularly with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by the Catholic kings after 1492. At the end of the 1940s, Jewish Moroccans numbered about 250,000 – some 10 percent of the population.”
Although the North African nation is 99% Sunni Muslim, it is more of an Imohag/Arab/Andalusian melting pot than an Arab country. Arabic and Amazigh (Tamazight) are the official languages, and over 60% of the country speaks French. The demographic is as rich as it is complicated.
The measure to include Jewish history and culture into their educational curriculum is seen by Jewish leaders as “an inoculation against extremism.” As The Yeshiva World reports, “Two U.S.-based Jewish associations — the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP) — said they ‘worked closely with the Kingdom of Morocco and the Moroccan Jewish community’ on the new lessons.”
Notably, while countering extremism itself has been seen as a tactical task, this specific preventative educational measure is distinctly cultural.
Clarion Project’s Preventing Violent Extremism trainer and National Correspondent, Shireen Qudosi, explains more:
“Morocco’s new educational initiative to create a space for Jewish history and culture moves beyond tactical and transactional leadership framed by political or economic interests. Instead, it seeks to get to know the region’s Jewish population with the same humanity and curiosity held for other groups of people held in esteem.
The heart of interfaith is to move beyond tolerance and toward bonding, which is also key to preventing extremism. A striving to know the other as the self, to move beyond accepting another’s presence and move into the layers of their identity, their history and beliefs.”
Morocco is the fourth Islamic nation in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region to broker a deal normalizing relations with Israel by joining the Trump administration’s Abraham Accords. The move toward peace, negotiated with the Trump administration at the helm, also includes the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Bahrain.
As the proverbial “carrot” for coming on board, the United States formally recognized Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara. That region has been disputed between Morocco and the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and may well fuel future conflict in the Sahel (the region of Africa separating the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical savannas to the south). The disputed area is roughly the size of Colorado, is mineral-rich and is expected to kick-start violence between the government of Morocco and the Saharawis.