Morocco under King Hassan II (1961-1999)

Rabbi Chalom Messas, the Head Rabbi of Morocco from
1955-1979, with King Hassan II

In February 1961, Morocco’s Jews joined Muslims in a National Day of Mourning for King Mohammed V. Despite the efforts of his successor, King Hassan II, to make Jews feel welcome and an integral part of the Moroccan nation, emigration continued, to Israel until 1964 and then mainly to France and Canada.

Hassan II pursued a vision of a modern Morocco that is committed to a liberal monarchical government, proud of its Muslim, Arab and African roots, and integrated economically into Europe. He helped build the Moroccan private sector, strengthened agricultural production, put in place new governmental institutions, increased the power of the parliament, increased literacy and educational levels, fought disease and improved health conditions. Nevertheless, he allowed economic and political corruption to thrive. While he built security institutions, he was challenged by two attempted coups in the early 1960’s, where he almost lost his life. From that point on, he became more authoritarian, fought dissent, punished abuses of Islamic law, increased police control, facilitated human rights abuses and maintained tight control over local government institutions.

The repressive atmosphere under King Hassan II included efforts to repress initiatives to express Amazigh identity. The Amazigh people make up about 40% of the Moroccan population. Amazigh, which consists of three dialects, was not recognized as a national language or taught in schools. The Moroccan Government repressed any activities celebrating Amazigh identity.

On the other hand, Hassan II developed strong ties with Jewish political and economic leaders. He recruited a Jew from Essaouira, André Azoulay, to be his economic advisor. Palace officials and governors attended Jewish high holidays services and visited hiloulas, pilgrimage festivals, of Jewish saints. Moroccan government employees were instructed to treat Jewish citizens well.

The dwindling Jewish community remained proudly Moroccan. Jews participated and contributed to the success of the Green March in 1975, when 350,000 Moroccans marched into the former Spanish Sahara to reclaim it for their country. After the death of the King, they contributed to the construction of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.

King Hassan II was a strong proponent of peace and reconciliation in Israel and Palestine. He organized several conferences to address vital issues, such as Jerusalem and investment in the Middle East. In 1994, he brought Israeli and Arab representatives together to promote economic cooperation, leading to termination of the Arab boycott of Israel. Subsequently, Morocco and Israel opened Liaison Offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat.

Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres meet with King Hassan II in Morocco after signing the Oslo Accords in 1993

Intelligence ties between Morocco and Israel were strong throughout the reign of King Hassan II. Israel helped the King fight political adversaries, strengthen Morocco’s security system and fight the Polisario Fron for control of the former Spanish Sahara. At crucial and strategic times, Hassan II showed courage in meeting publicly with Israeli leaders such as Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. Throughout his reign, he invited Jews of Moroccan descent, of which there were approximately 600,000 in Israel and almost 250,000 in France, to return to Morocco. While few returned to live, tens of thousands visited each year.