By Hannah Furst
The news this month about Palestine’s bid to become a member of the United Nations is just the latest headlining story that reminds American Jews of the fraught tensions that exist in the Middle East between the Jewish and Muslim populations. However, even amidst this tense political backdrop, there are signs of progress and change. This week, the first Holocaust conference in the Arab world took place in Morocco. To say that this was a momentous occasion would be an understatement. The conference was hosted by Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco and it featured three days of presentations and discussions about not only the Holocaust, but also about the relationship between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. Among the attendees were noted Holocaust scholars, like Dr. Michael Berenbaum, Holocaust survivors, and Muslim university students.
During World War II, Morocco’s king, Mohammed V, resisted the commands of the Vichy French occupation government to turn over the country’s Jews. Today, unlike so many other Arab nations, Morocco has chosen to acknowledge the Holocaust and its atrocities. Even more remarkable, last week’s conference was spear-headed by a young group of Muslim university students in Morocco who wanted to provide a forum in which the Holocaust could be discussed and remembered in the Middle East. In the face of so many Holocaust deniers, these students decided to take a bold and perhaps, unpopular stand. Despite the fact that much of Morocco’s Jewish population has dispersed to other countries (the U.S., France, and Israel), this conference was about respecting Jewish history and contribution in Morocco. To remember this history and more specifically, the Holocaust, is to finally accept and honor the history of the Jewish people. Ultimately, politicians and zealots on both sides of the debates in the Middle East should take a cue from the mission of this conference; memorialization and acknowledgment must be among the first steps towards reconciliation.