Moroccan Jewish leader discusses tourism and kashrut restrictions in interview

 

In an interview with le 360. ma Serge Berdugo, President of the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco, discussed the cultural and economic issues at stake in the ongoing lockdown of kosher services in Morocco.

For him, it is a question of putting an end to prejudicial chaos in the country, which is preparing to welcome 200,000 Israeli tourists per year.

There was an agreement signed between the Ministries of the Interior and Tourism, the Moroccan National Tourist Office, and the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco, chaired by Serge Berdugo, himself a former Minister of Tourism in the Kingdom, that intends to be a comprehensive framework to regulate many aspects of Jewish life in Morocco, including the control and delivery of kosher services to achieve a globally recognized “Kosher Morocco Label” and enhance national Jewish heritage.

If one understands the stakes linked to the kosher label, and the chaos that has reigned until now in this matter, as well as its implications, notably on the capacity of Morocco to reassure the 100,000 Israeli tourists expected this year (with a rise to 200,000 tourists in the very short term), one understands better the real “clean hands” operation that the Council carried out on this register.

The genesis of the problem, its ramifications, and, above all, the major changes that herald a whole new dimension, are explained by Serge Berdugo.

What does the new agreement signed between the Council that you chair and the Ministries of the Interior and Tourism and the ONMT consist of?

This unique convention is based on the High Royal Guidelines which call for guaranteeing to Moroccan citizens of the Jewish faith the fulfillment of their religious practices as well as the preservation and promotion of the Hebrew cultural heritage of the Kingdom. It follows the interministerial circular of 23 July 2021 assigning to the Casablanca Kosher Commission the delivery of Kosher services in the Kingdom.

It is perfectly in line with the attributions of the Department of Tourism, in particular the supervision and the support of the professions and the tourist activities. The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, and in particular the opening of a direct air link, will generate a flow of Jewish tourists that will more than double to reach 100.000 tourists by 2022. This agreement also responds to the wishes of the national Jewish community to clean up the kashruth sector.

The above-mentioned circular is signed by no less than four ministerial departments. What is the purpose of the circular and what is at stake?

The interministerial circular of 23 July 2021 is indeed signed by the departments of Interior, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, and Tourism. This is because it establishes the conditions for the delivery of kosher services in Morocco. It attributes the granting of kosher certification (Teoudah) and the “Kosher Morocco Label” exclusively to the Casablanca Kosher Commission (CCDC), for all products or services deemed kosher on the Moroccan market and for export.

This governmental decision -wished by the Jewish community of Morocco- aims essentially to put an end to the chaos and anarchy that reigned in the field of kashrut following the criminal behavior of some kosher holiday organizers.

In 2018, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, condemned the “fraudulent practices” of Israeli operators and kosher tour operators in Morocco, who were deceiving their clients by serving them non-kosher food. “The majority of them have no kosher food and mislead people”, he denounced, calling for mistrust of these operators and demanding that they have either a Teudah (certificate) or a Hachgaha (certificate of control).

The Moroccan Jewish community has always lived up to its duties and commitments regarding kashrut, but it was helpless in the face of growing criminal activity. The interministerial circular gives it the legal means to act to clean up this sector and enable it to establish a reliable kashruth, recognized worldwide, and in particular to find solutions to the supply of kosher meat to the 200,000 tourists of the Jewish faith expected in the coming years.

However, the establishment of the Kashruth Commission has been very badly received by some operators, particularly butchers…

It was to be expected that the establishment of the Kashruth Commission would provoke hostile reactions and concern among established butchers and service providers opposed to the reorganization of the sector. But we did not expect such virulence, with fake news, especially on social networks. It is behavior unworthy of any rabbi

On the other hand, we knew that honest and serious operators would understand that the aim was not to hinder their activities or to tax them. It was never our intention to introduce a tax on kashrut in order to take away possible subsidies for the community’s social services (which, by the way, would not be abnormal, given what is happening all over the world), but to establish a reliable, transparent, credible, modern and recognized service to guarantee religious prescriptions and reassure customers. This service has a cost that must be borne, not by individuals who are free to do as they please, but by the traders for whom the kosher label is an essential, if not indispensable, element of their business.

How can such attacks be explained and who is behind them?

The former Av Beth Din was appointed by the Community Council and the Rabbinate to assist the community in its ongoing quest to strengthen kashrut. Unfortunately, during his tenure, absolutely nothing was done to create a genuine kashruth and his work can be summarised as two short, mediatized visits to slaughterhouses.

In fact, he delegated his responsibilities to someone close to him, whose fixed-term mandate ended in September 2021. Immediately afterward, we witnessed a campaign of denigration and crude fake news on social networks, even though the kashrut had not undergone any change, and therefore no degradation, and that those responsible for ritual slaughter (rabbis, jugulators, controllers, butchers, pegmen…) remained the same.

How is the new Commission organized and what guarantees are there for its proper functioning?

The Casablanca Kosher Commission was set up in December 2021. It comprises a Beth Din composed of 5 rabbinical judges. The rabbinical body is the only one to take the final decision on all religious regulations, which will be applied by the administrative service.

The constitution of the Casablanca Commission was warmly welcomed by leading Moroccan rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Chief Sephardic Rabbi, who declared on 6 December 2021: “I have full confidence in the Casablanca Beth Din and I fully support them and, of course, I am ready to provide my assistance for the success of this sacred mission.

The Commission’s responsibility is heavy but not impossible. In close cooperation with serious service providers, it will establish a credible and globally respected “Kosher Label Morocco”.

After a few months of the Commission’s existence and as the Pesach holidays come to an end, what is your first assessment of its work?

The Commission has fulfilled one of its essential tasks by ensuring the supply of kosher meat to the Jewish community and to tourists.

As the installed butchers were unable to satisfy the needs of the tens of thousands of newly arrived tourists, the Commission approached international kosher operators who were able to meet the present and future needs of the market at competitive prices. At the end of these consultations, one of the most important French companies, managed by a Moroccan from Casablanca, was selected.

This entrepreneur presented his plan of action during two working meetings with qualified representatives of the community and caterers who adhered to the new scheme, considered “the guarantee of a true kosher and a regular and reliable supply”.

The traditional butchers, after rejecting the new structures for fear of competition and organizing a rebellion, have realized the need to adapt to the inevitable evolution of the market. Today, everything has returned to normal and the supply of an exponentially growing market has been normalized.

Thus, for the Pesach holidays, traditional butchers supplied individuals and local caterers, while the industrial slaughterhouse met the challenge of satisfying the needs for meat, slaughtered in Morocco and certified kosher according to international standards, of the 14 establishments under the Commission’s supervision, which represents 75% of the demand expressed. This is quite an achievement!

Apart from meat, what other actions are carried out by the Commission, and on which products?

Despite the difficulties in recruiting competent personnel in a short period of time, the Casablanca Kosher Commission (CCDC) is operational and its action is developing according to the established program.

Its website “cacheroutemaroc.com” went online in March 2022 and provides useful information to service providers and traders (documents, forms) and to the public (lists of hotels, restaurants, caterers, bakeries, delicatessens, and kosher products).

The certification of catering establishments has been successfully launched with restaurants, fast food outlets, and caterers in Casablanca and Marrakech. All restaurants with a Teoudah (certificate) 2022 are listed on the website.

In addition, the Commission has audited some twenty hotels. And for the Pesach holidays (April 2022), it was able to monitor the kashruth in 14 hotel units out of the 22 establishments organizing kosher stays in Marrakech, Agadir, and El Jadida, which gathered more than 10,000 visitors satisfied with their stays and kosher services.

The CCDC has also started its campaign to grant the “Kosher Morocco Label” to establishments as diverse as air catering, dairy product factories, water bottling, argan oil, olive oil, fish smoking, honey, and biscuits, flavorings, sweets, preserves, and wine cellars. And this is just the beginning…

What is the “promotion of Jewish cultural heritage” part of the agreement?

The rich cultural heritage of Moroccan Judaism deserves to be highlighted by the Ministry of Tourism and the ONMT, which have the task of promoting all facets of Moroccan civilization.

During the last 20 years, dozens of historical places and Jewish sites have been rehabilitated (necropolises, synagogues, mausoleums) and new museums have been created under the high patronage of His Majesty. These monuments are markers of our nation’s ancestral history and treasures that must be inventoried and presented in an attractive form. This is the objective of the partnership between the Ministry of Tourism, the ONMT, and the Council of the Jewish Communities of Morocco, which, as a first step, will publish a guide and a series of promotional brochures addressed to the widest public.

When will we see a 100% Kosher circuit?

The path is full of pitfalls because there are many interests at stake. For the time being, the program is going according to plan. Thanks to the agreement signed with the Ministries of the Interior and Tourism and the Council of Communities, the Kashruth Commission will have the financial means to begin the implementation of the Kosher Morocco ecosystem, by recruiting rabbis and competent inspectors to perpetuate and guarantee true kashruth.

In this perspective, the 200,000 or so Jewish tourists have every reason to be reassured by the creation of an official kosher control body in Morocco, whose intervention will have only a derisory impact on the price of their stay. Serious professionals, after a period of adaptation, will undoubtedly adhere to the new regulation which sets out the responsibilities of each player and establishes the rules of healthy competition.

Thanks to the means made available to it by the Convention, the Commission will be able to generalize these controls in order to reach a zero-tolerance threshold in the very short term with the strengthening of the legal framework and the assistance of the authorities concerned. There is no doubt that the creation of a reliable and recognized “Kosher Label Morocco” will be an asset for the development of Moroccan tourism.

(World Jewish Congress)

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