NEW YORK (Nov. 15)
The president of Morocco’s Jewish Communities Council has been named minister of tourism, in a move seen as further proof of the North African country’s commitment to peace in the Middle East.
Serge Berdugo, who last week was tapped to be the first Jewish Cabinet official in more than 35 years, is personally close to King Hassan II, who formally approved the appointment Nov. 11.
In July, Hassan awarded Berdugo the prestigious medal of the Order of the Throne.
Speaking by telephone from Casablanca, Berdugo said his government post does not mean he will resign his post in the Jewish community.
“The prime minister said they are not incompatible,” Berdugo told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
In fact, Berdugo has been active in promoting Jewish tourism to Morocco from America and Europe.
Other potential tourists are the hundreds of thousands of Jews of Moroccan origin and descent living in Israel.
For the past few years, those Jews have been able to travel to Morocco on their Israeli passports, needing only to say that their ancestors were Moroccan. Berdugo himself has been to Israel several times.
With the notable exception of Egypt, most Arab states bar tourists traveling on Israeli passports or those whose passports indicate they have spent time in Israel.
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said Berdugo’s appointment is “a clear signal that Morocco, which has always been a bridge (between Israel and the Arab world), is indicating even more so that it wants to play that role.”
Last month, a high-level Moroccan delegation took part in an economic conference in Jerusalem where members announced plans to participate in a multilateral peace company being launched by Israel’s Koor conglomerate. Palestinian and Spanish investors will also be partners in the project named Salaam, or peace.
And this month, in apparent defiance of the Arab boycott of Israel, a Moroccan bank established economic ties with Israel’s Bank Leumi.
As president of the 8,000-member Jewish community, Berdugo welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres when they visited Morocco in September, immediately after signing the declaration of principles with the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington.
Berdugo said his appointment “sends a very strong signal that Morocco will always remain an open, tolerant country for all religions.”
It is also, he said, “another signal for the Middle East. We are for peace, and we will accompany the peace.”
“We cannot do everything all at one time,” he said. “The peace process is built brick by brick.”
And as for his new official duties, he said: “My role is to make this country — the most beautiful country in the world — a country whose culture, landscape, traditions, and very highcaliber people raise tourism to a privileged state.”