For Morocco activist of Jewish descent, Zionism feeds anti-Semitism

Mohammedia (Morocco) (AFP) –


For rights activist Sion Assidon, a Moroccan of Jewish descent who also describes himself as Berber and Arab, Zionism breeds anti-Semitism in today's Arab world but aversion to Israel's policies is not a form of racism.

"Anti-Zionism is a political position and if declaring oneself to be 'anti-Zionist' is seen as a racist act, that is serious," said the 70-year-old campaigner who opposes French President Emmanuel Macron proposal to turn anti-Zionism into a crime.

For Assidon, "we must not limit ourselves to condemning one form of racial hatred alone, forgetting Muslims and gypsies," for example. Why pass on Islamophobia? he asks.

Assidon is an activist to the bone.

He spent 12 years behind bars, from 1972 to 1984, for "endangering national security" during the reign of the late King Hassan II, along with dozens of other opposition figures.

Last month, he took part in a demonstration in Casablanca, Morocco's economic capital, called by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against a concert by Enrico Macias in protest at pro-Israeli positions adopted by the French singer, who is of Algerian Jewish descent.

Although a renowned critic of the authorities, the leftist activist does share the same analysis as King Mohammed VI on one point at least: you can oppose Israel's policy of settlement building on Palestinian land at the same time as standing up for the coexistence of religious identities.

- 'Coexistence' -

"You mustn't confuse Zionism with Judaism: the Israeli government says it represents Jews the world over, but that's not true," Assidon insisted.

A keen historian and business owner based in Mohammedia, a city on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca, Assidon believes "anti-Semitism is above all a form of Judaeophobia within the European space linked to the view of the (Catholic) Church" over the centuries.

"In Arab countries, religious differences can create tensions but nobody accuses the Jews of having killed the son of God," he said, while pointing out that Jews in Morocco and other Muslim countries benefit from the status of "People of the Book" and the protection it grants.

In Morocco, the preamble of its constitution pays tribute to Hebrew roots and Jews have held ministerial posts and served as royal advisors.

In an initiative by the palace, projects have been launched to renovate Jewish cemeteries and urban districts that used to be home to a community of between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews that shrank amid waves of emigration linked to the 1948 creation of Israel and Morocco's independence from France in 1956.

Sion Assidon hails from a trading family who decided to stay on in the land of their birth. He may be an atheist, but he is still subject to "the law of the rabbis" which for the Jews of Morocco takes the place of the family code linked to sharia Islamic laws.

Although Moroccan Jews now number less than 3,000, the community is still the largest in the Arab world. And despite the absence of diplomatic relations, Israeli tourists are welcome to travel to Morocco and visit the region's only Hebrew art and history museum, founded in 1998 in Casablanca.

"Coexistence between communities has worked quite well, but today there's a dangerous slide: the Jews, far fewer in number, are becoming an abstraction and their image, in the minds of the young, tends to be reduced to the one who is imposing the brutal occupation of Palestine," said Assidon.

As a result, according to Assidon, anti-Semitism in Morocco and other Arab countries is fed in part by the resurgence of conspiracy theories born in 19th century Europe and reinforced by "the total impunity granted to Israel" despite its policies of "bloody repression" censored on numerous occasions by the United Nations.