Cablegate: A Jewish Leader's Perspective in an Arab City


DE RUEHCL #0168/01 2261706
P 141706Z AUG 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: (A) Casablanca 0163
(B) Rabat 1265
(C) Rabat 1272

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

2. (SBU) Summary: As President of the Moroccan Jewish community and
Ambassador at Large for the GOM, Serge Berdugo has never been shy
about expressing his opinions on the situation in the country.
Berdugo, however, rarely strays from the official line due to his
close official and personal ties to the palace. During a recent
meeting the first, and presumably most important, topic addressed by
Berdugo was security and terrorism in Casablanca. He was eager to
share his insights on the April bombings at the consulate and to
express his relative comfort with the overall situation in Morocco,
despite some nagging concerns for his community. Berdugo talked at
length about the topic du jour, the recent seizure of two weekly
news magazines and the charges brought against their editor for
violating the law forbidding criticism of the King.(refs:A,B) Other
topics included the upcoming elections, the recent resignation of
the Deputy Minister of the Interior (ref:C), and growing Islamist
influence, as well as issues that reach beyond Morocco's borders to
the Western Sahara and Moroccan-Israel relations. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Security - Always a Factor for the Jewish Community
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (SBU) On August 8, CG and poloff visited the downtown
headquarters of Morocco's Jewish community. From the comfortable
thirteenth floor office with one of the best views of the Hassan II
Mosque in Casablanca, Serge Berdugo, President of the Community and
King's Ambassador at Large, shared his views on recent and upcoming
events. Berdugo launched into an exposition on Morocco's security
situation. After expressing his concerns for the consulate and the
April suicide bombings, Berdugo described the feelings of the Jewish
community regarding security and terrorism. He claimed that the
community at large is not overly concerned. Despite that, he said
he personally feels pressures regarding the security situation but
it stems from a fear of attacks against Morocco in general and not
attacks on the Jewish community specifically.

4. (SBU) When discussing the Jewish community's presence in
Morocco, Berdugo was confident that the Jewish population, no matter
how small, will always be at home in the country. Despite his
statement however, we frequently observe, and Berdugo confirmed,
that most Moroccans speak in terms of nationals being Moroccan or
Jewish not both. The "us and them" mentality goes both ways,
Berdugo claimed, but it is without animosity or friction. The
practice dates back to the French, he said, when residents of the
country were officially classified as French, Moroccan Arab or
Israelites of Morocco. While he did admit that there are perhaps
ten or fifteen percent of the population who dislike Jews, there was
a consensus that this statistic is not uncommon worldwide.

Events of the Day

5. (SBU) The conversation turned to one of the hottest topics of the
day, the confiscation of two weekly news magazines and the GOM's
charges against their editor, Ahmed Benchamsi, for criticizing the
monarchy in his editorial. Berdugo was fiercely critical of
Benchamsi saying the act was stupid or crazy but mainly
irresponsible. At the same time, however, he made clear his support
for free speech and freedom of the press, though tempered by
responsibility and integrity. "Morocco is not the U.S." said
Berdugo. "In the U.S. there are those in authority and those who
challenge authority, there is a balance. Here the situation is

6. (SBU) Berdugo spoke casually about another timely topic, the
resignation of Deputy Minister of the Interior Fouad Ali Al Himma.
Saying he had spoken to Al Himma just days before the announcement,
Berdugo imagined that in all likelihood Al Himma was "just ready for
a change." When asked whether or not the closeness of Al Himma and
the King should be a matter of concern if Al Himma wins a seat in
parliament or more Berdugo replied, "many in the Parliament are
close to the King" then added offhandedly "Parliament does not
exist." Explaining this remark Berdugo said, "People don't
understand that the King wants a real parliament, a real judiciary,
but he just can't do it now. The country is not ready."

Who's Afraid of the Islamists?

7. (SBU) When asked about the upcoming elections and the
possibility of an Islamist gains, Berdugo responded, "I am not
afraid of the Islamist, but if they win and there are ministers from
the PJD, what will change?" Berdugo is optimistic that even if the
Islamic Party of Justice and Development (PJD) make large gains, the
current path toward reform will not deviate. Morocco, he said, is
the strongest democracy in the region and we will continue to move
in the right direction. He was certain that "Morocco is ripe for
success and nobody wants to see that end."

--------------------------------------------- -------
On the Western Sahara and Israeli-Moroccan Relations
--------------------------------------------- -------

8. (SBU) Berdugo seemed less optimistic when he spoke of the
Western Sahara autonomy talks. "If they arrive at a consensus it
will be very dramatic." Berdugo admitted that finding a solution
will not be easy, everything depends on "the notion that the world
will change" he said. Berdugo views Morocco and Algeria as the
leaders in Africa and as such they must work together for the region
to prosper. Berdugo explained that neither the U.S. nor the EU
really understand the problem. What must be overcome is not
economic, political or even cultural problems, he claimed, but
longstanding psychological issues. "People have been living like
this for so long that it is difficult for them to imagine anything
different" Berdugo said, in addition, "there is a new generation who
has lost all past references and whose vision for the country is not
the same as it was years ago."

9. (SBU) Berdugo offered his impressions of Moroccan-Israeli
relations and his expectations of them for the future. He seemed
hopeful that slowly Morocco and Israel can come together in the
first step toward initiating a new relationship. Having just
returned from Israel, he said that the Israelis "really understood"
that diplomatic relations are out of the question for now. They
understood that "Morocco is a good friend." He stressed his belief
that both countries must undertake "multiple acts" to strengthen the
relationship. He explained that no one, including Israel, wants to
put the GOM in a difficult position and make it vulnerable to
attack. He said that small and discreet acts, now underway, are
what it will take to change the situation. Citing one example of
just such an act, Berdugo spoke of a new Israeli postage stamp to be
released on August 27, 2007 honoring the former Chief Rabbi of
Morocco and Jerusalem. The stamp, said Berdugo proudly, has a
Moroccan flag running vertically along one side flanking a portrait
of the Rabbi.

A Unique Position

10. (SBU) Comment: As a representative of the King and the leader
of the Jewish community, Berdugo's attitudes about the current
situation may not reflect the feelings of the general public in
Casablanca but in all likelihood, echo the attitudes of his
community. The small Jewish Community in Casablanca lives in a
different "Morocco" than that of the average Moroccan. With limited
opportunities, most of the youth from the community go abroad to
study. The majority find well paying jobs overseas when they
conclude their education and rarely return to Morocco. By
comparison, recent Moroccan university graduates struggle to find
jobs in a cohort with 40 percent unemployment. As if to emphasize
this point, at the end of our meeting, Berdugo addressed a consular
issue for someone in the community who had been refused a tourist
visa. He said not getting a U.S. visa is a problem because most in
the community consider it "normal" to have a one. They cannot
understand when there is a problem. While his community may face
roadblocks from time to time, according to Berdugo the current
atmosphere for his Morocco is definitely one of optimism. End


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