Sunday, May 10, 2009

'Morocco can teach Israel about coexistence'

Maguy Kakon of Marrakesh has it all: money, ambition, good looks. For all that, she failed to get elected in the last Parliamentary elections. As the perfect symbol of Muslim-Jewish coexistence she feels she has a right to lecture Israelis on how they should relate to Arabs. But to become accepted as a Jew in Morocco, she has to speak like an Arab - to compromise her identity. Haaretz has this profile:

"I speak Moroccan Arabic," she explains, "not the Arabic of the Jews here - a special language that some of the Muslims do not understand. Because of this I can even go to places where Jews are scared to go - very Muslim places, like this market."

However, she insists that Morocco's Jews are perfectly safe, and that she has never experienced anti-Semitism personally. Nonetheless, Jews in Morocco cannot work in government, banks, or municipal posts, even though they can be elected to city councils, "and a lot of times Jews have bureaucratic difficulties heaped on them, although not on me personally, because I speak excellent Arabic."(my emphasis -ed)

The only time she encountered anti-Semitism, Kakon recounts, was when her son David, today a banker in Paris, won the Casablanca golf club championship at age 15. The loser called him a "dirty Jew." Kakon did not take that sitting down. Among other things, she wrote the mayor and the interior minister, and the club issued a public apology. Her son nevertheless refused to return to Morocco. (...)

Morocco is the only Arab country in which Jews lead normal and good lives," Kakon says. "If the current king's reforms continue, and if more people, more women with liberal social views like mine enter politics, Morocco will be the leading country in Africa. We are, after all, so close to Europe. In terms of mentality, there is not that big a difference between Casablanca and Marseilles. What is holding Morocco back is the status of women. As individuals they are indeed gaining more power: There are women doctors and engineers, lawyers and professors, and even a woman adviser to the king. But as a gender they are discriminated against very much. From that standpoint, Morocco remains an Oriental country, where a woman's status is poor, as in every Muslim country. That is why the elite and the educated young people, not just the Jews, are leaving Morocco, and the universities are in a terrible state. We must change this."

Despite such criticism, Kakon notes that Morocco can also teach Israel and the entire Middle East a thing or two "about peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. I am convinced that we, the Jews from Morocco, can help Israel make peace with the Arabs because we are part of Arab culture. When we say that we know how to talk to the Arabs, we mean the opposite of what [Avigdor] Lieberman means. In my view it is disastrous that he got elected. We know how to give respect and accept respect. It is not a matter of left and right; it's a matter of knowing how to talk to one another. If I can manage to talk to the simplest and most ignorant people in Morocco in their own language, and to win them over with my ideas, then it's clear that the problem is that Israelis are not behaving correctly to the Arabs."
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