Politics

Israel Recalls Morocco Envoy After Misconduct Claims, Unsettling New Ties

RABAT, Morocco — Israel has recalled its envoy to Morocco and was investigating claims of misconduct against him at its mission in Rabat, the Israeli foreign ministry said on Tuesday, unsettling the new but rapidly strengthening diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The Israeli news media reported this week that the envoy, David Govrin, who is the head of the Israeli liaison office in Morocco, was under investigation for sexual impropriety and for allowing a friend without a formal role at the mission to unduly influence its decisions. Israeli news outlets also reported that a gift, presented to the Israeli mission by the Moroccan royal family, had gone missing.

The foreign ministry declined to explain the scope of the investigation. Reached by phone, Mr. Govrin declined to comment, as did the Moroccan government.

The claims risked eclipsing the new and delicate relationship between Israel and Morocco, which was brokered by the Trump administration in December 2020 as part of a wider diplomatic thaw that year between Israel and certain Arab countries. The normalization deals reshaped the alliances and political horizons of the Middle East and North Africa.

The shift reflected how Arab solidarity with Palestinians has been overtaken among some Arab leaders by common economic interests with Israel and shared fears of a nuclear Iran.

Mr. Govrin, a 33-year veteran of the Israeli diplomatic corps, had been central to the shift in relations between Israel and Morocco, having been appointed as the Israeli envoy shortly after the normalization deal was completed.

A former ambassador to Egypt, Mr. Govrin was technically only the director of Israel’s liaison office in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, pending a formal upgrade to his and the mission’s status.

During his tenure, several Israeli ministers have visited Morocco and direct commercial flights have began running between the two countries, increasing the numbers of Israeli tourists to Morocco. The Moroccan and Israeli defense ministries signed a preliminary military agreement that brought years of clandestine cooperation into the open.

The Moroccan government also limited its criticism of Israel’s approach to the Palestinians and emerged as a broker in efforts to make it easier for Palestinians to enter and exit the occupied West Bank.

But the relationship remained tentative, with the two countries yet to formally open embassies and exchange ambassadors.

The bilateral relationship remains unpopular among Moroccans: Less than a third said they supported it in polling published in July.

Mr. Govrin’s work was paused on Tuesday when the Israeli foreign ministry said he had been recalled pending the results of an investigation into his conduct.

The news media in Israel said that among the claims officials were assessing against Mr. Govrin were accusations that he had exploited Moroccan women.

There were also claims that Mr. Govrin had become embroiled in a spat with an Israeli official who oversees the security of the mission in Morocco, and that he had allowed a private businessman to become too involved in his office’s affairs.

Reaction in Morocco, where rights campaigners say the government limits press freedom, was relatively muted. But the harassment claims prompted criticism from opposition activists.

Khmissa, a group that campaigns for women and Moroccan dissidents, expressed concern at the allegations, said that it was “deeply troubled” by the silence of the Moroccan government and called on Moroccan officials to open their own investigation.

Morocco cut ties with Israel once before, in 2000, in protest against Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

But so far, there have been no signs of such a fallout from the current tensions, and the chief of staff of the Moroccan military was still expected to arrive in Israel next week on an official visit.

The two countries have relatively strong cultural ties: Several hundred thousand Israelis have roots in Morocco, and a few thousand Jews still live there despite large waves of emigration to Israel in past decades.

Sidney Corcos, an Israeli who was born in Morocco and divides his time between the two countries, said he expected the diplomatic relationship to survive this controversy.

“The relations are much more important than this,” said Mr. Corcos, who works to preserve Jewish heritage in Morocco. “We don’t even know the details of what happened,” he added. “Relations have been solid for — I don’t want to say ‘centuries’ — but forever.”

Aida Alami reported from Rabat, Morocco, and Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem. Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.

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