The geopolitics of normalisation: an interview with Sion Assidon

Below is an interview with Sion Assidon, ‘one of Morocco’s most prominent Jewish left-wing activists’, on the recently signed Morocco-Israel normalisation agreement. 

Al-M’s thanks Sion Assidon and Acta.Zone, who conducted the interview.

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AZ: How were the relations between Israel and the Moroccan regime before this formalisation? We remember the contribution of Hassan II [r. 1961-1999] to the preparation of the signing of the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel. 

SA: On 10 December 2020, the day that the Moroccan authorities announced their decision to strengthen their relations with the state occupying Palestine, the New York Times published an article by a Zionist journalist named Ronen Bergman (the ex-publicist of Yedioth Aharonoth, the Tel Aviv daily with the largest circulation) that I urge you to read, with the following title: “Israel-Morocco Deal Follows a History of Cooperation on Arms and Spying”. 

The subtitle was, “For almost 60 years, the two countries, which agreed to normalize ties, have worked together closely but secretly on military and intelligence matters, assassinations, and migration of Jews to Israel.” And in fact, the article is decorated with a photo showing Moroccan Jewish migrants on a Gibraltan beach in 1961, on their way to Palestine.  

This was indeed the inaugural act of this co-operation: a double crime, first against the Moroccan people, which had part of its population amputated from it – $50 a head – and second against the Palestinian people, which saw an Arab-Amazigh Jewish population arrive to occupy their land, bearing arms against them. 

It’s interesting to note that in the official justifications for normalisation, an old argument that’s often been used: the existence of an important “Moroccan community” in Palestine. There’s a double legerdemain here, which both exonerates settlers – ”our Moroccan brothers” – for their contribution to the war crimes against the Palestinian people and crimes against humanity, and an attempt at whitewashing the Moroccan regime of its original crime, of transforming Moroccans into colonial mercenaries. 

The New York Times article carries a series of illustrations of this co-operation, amongst others the assassination of the national leader Mehdi Ben Barka in Paris in October 1965, and the permission, given to Mossad in July the same year, to place its listening-devices in the conference halls and rooms of the participants of the Arab League. Note that the abundance of information gathered by Mossad that year allowed it to understand not only the mindsets of the leaders of those front-line countries, but also the details of the military situation there – this seems to have hugely contributed to the success of the June 1967 attack.

Since then the relations between the two accomplices have only deepened, and the military and intelligence normalisation has been added to various other “normalisations”: commercial, mainly involving basic foodstuffs, but also now cars and stuff for agricultural production; maritime links, with regular routes between both Tangier and Casablanca and Haifa; cultural links, tourism, and so on. 

A response, an erroneous one, to the question “what does the signing of such an agreement, and of annexed agreements, change in the relations  between the countries?’” was given by the Foreign Affairs minister [Nasser] Bourita, which was, in essence, that it’s “business as usual”. This aims to mask several issues. First, there’s a political leap in the symbol, in the gesture of opening an official diplomatic relationship. They were trying to lift a taboo – what had been semi-hidden has gone from “shameful” to being a sign of “tolerance”.

And then there’s the quantitative aspect. For example, the project of 200,000 tourists per year instead of 50,000. We should expect the current amount of trade, some tens of millions of dollars, to substantially increase. What Bourita said is as false as the words of some courtier at the beginning of last century: “Well, we’ve always had relations with France, long before 1912. What’s going to change?” [1]

AZ: How does the signing of the agreement change the relations between Morocco and the US?

SA: Perhaps we should reverse the terms of “signing the agreement” and the “change in Moroccan-US relations”, if only by recalling that an agreement over military collaboration between the two countries was signed on 2 October, before 10 December, the date of the re-establishment of a diplomatic channel between the Moroccan regime and the occupying state. 

Things are happening very quickly. We know the role of the US in setting up the normalisation agreement, and in particular Trump’s role – don’t forget the close links between him and the Evangelists, Christian Zionists to a fault – with Kushner handling things, this guy who’s always at his master’s side, taking inspiration from Rabbi ‘Miracle Worker’ Pinto. [2] 

Putting these events in a global context, it’s a real geostrategic change that we’re witnessing. Moroccan-American military cooperation is growing. Beyond facilitating arms sales, including even advanced equipment, the [US-Moroccan] agreement explicitly mentions and promotes a local arms industry. What’s more, there’s a question of an American military base moving – from Rota, in Spain? From Germany? – to Morocco, though this remains, for the moment, conditional. The re-deployment of American military efforts towards the African arena is an integral part of manoeuvres resulting from a wider rivalry with China and Russia. Why? Because Africa is a source of raw materials and a potential market. Who said imperialism is ancient history? 

Of course this puts a different light – a more martial light – onto the agreements which came to be signed by Morocco and the state occupying Palestine. 

In piecing these things together – the established military relationship between Morocco and the US, the traditional military and security collaboration of Morocco with the occupying state, and the more recent, limited military co-operation with the Gulf petro-monarchies in Yemen – one shifts the focus. 

It’s a military axis against Iran that the Zionist occupants of Palestine have established with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and those to follow. And, there one has it, Morocco has embarked on the same road, with American cover assured over there and over here. Perhaps the assuaging function of the words of Minister of Foreign Affairs Bourita should be analysed in this context. 

A pro-Palestine demonstration, the Moroccan flag in the near foreground.

AZ: How is the pro-Palestine mobilisation in Morocco? Are you worried that this accord would reverse the anti-Zionist struggle in Morocco? 

SA: In Morocco, mobilising for Palestine spans centuries; each era has its different characteristics. The response in the 12th century of Moroccan fighters to [Saladin’s] call to save Al-Quds clearly had religious motivations, and left its mark: Bab al-Maghariba [‘Moroccans’ Gate’] is one of the traditional gates of the town. There was the participation in the anti-colonial resistance of young Moroccans in the 1970s, some of whom fell on the field of honour, up to the fights around the Beirut siege.

Over the last decades the mass demonstrations against Zionist colonialism, triggered most often by particularly atrocious crimes by the occupier – in Gaza a number times, and the July 2006 invasion of Lebanon – have shown an unwavering solidarity, from a feeling of shared destiny amongst the peoples of the Maghreb and Arab region with the fate of Palestine: “Palestine is a Moroccan national cause” isn’t an empty phrase. Listening to what’s sung on the football terraces is enough to understand the constancy of this feeling, beyond the bloody events currently making news of the region. 

Certainly all the effort that’s gone into presenting the ignominy of normalisation as a “deal” that Morocco might profit from might damage this consciousness for a little while. For sure, the fanfare, not only from the official media but also the traditional parties, plus some associations and professional organisations, has contributed to that sense [of possible profit]. An unpleasant whiff of gunpowder might allow the momentary forgetting of the current, deep distress of the immense majority – the poor classes – hit by the full force of the pandemic’s consequences. [3] All the talk about “our Moroccan brothers”, who occupy Palestine, adds a note of so-called “tolerance” – of war crimes against Palestinian civilians. 

More than this, one should note the corruption of certain associations, but also of artists and intellectuals, of some journalists, invited to visit all the wonderful sites of the occupation, with Gaza only a few kilometres away, of course.

But, the mobilisation of different human-rights organisations and activists for the Palestinian cause, artists and intellectuals taking a public position, agitation through social media, that great hive of activity – all of this is a counter-weight. Unfortunately, it may be the case that, once again, only the atrocities committed on the ground by the occupiers will open the eyes of those who have fallen into these various traps.

The current state of the “normalisation” between these two long-time accomplices, the Makhzan [Moroccan state] and the state occupying Palestine, is a frenzied attempt to normalise the relationship in people’s minds through media hype, the final stage of which, happily, will never be attained, since the Moroccan masses retain Palestine in their hearts. 

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[1] The pre-Protectorate courts have remained infamous for their corruption and acquiescence vis-à-vis France. 

[2] Pinto was appointed Morocco’s chief rabbinic judge in April 2019, the first in a century. His appointment followed a one-year stint for corruption in Israel. 

[3] This paragraph presents two difficulties. First, ‘(c)ertes la manœuvre qui a consisté à présenter l’ignominie de la normalisation comme un deal dont le Maroc tirerait profit peut troubler les consciences pendant un certain temps’; is that the consciences of those who enacted that maneuver, or does Assidon imply that their effort effectively shifted popular opinion? Second, the translators are unsure of the meaning of ‘gunpowder’ image. Probably he is referring to those ‘bloody events’ mentioned in the paragraph above.

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