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Tunisian Jews to Israel: We're staying here, thanks!

Jews of Ghriba, Tunisia, c. 1950?

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom made another call on the Tunisian Jewish community to immigrate to Israel, this time at a Jerusalem ceremony in honor of Tunisian victims of the Holocaust on Dec. 7. The Tunisia-born Shalom said, "I call on the Jews living in Tunisia to come and live in Israel as soon as possible."

But the website offered a survey of prominent Jews in Tunisia who universally rejected Shalom's plea:

Avraham Chiche, is the director of the Jewish Old Age home in La Goulette.  His family immigrated to Tunisia over 500 years ago from Spain during the Spanish inquisition.  Chiche feels that Shalom’s comments have been political and he has no plans to leave Tunisia.

"Silvan Shalom needs to mind his own business and let us choose to live where we want to live, instead of making publicity statements for Israel," said Chiche.

The recent electoral victory of the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha does not seem to have Tunisia's Jews worried.

"We fear the small number of Salafists in Tunisia, but not Ennahda, the leadership of Ennahda came to us both before and after the election and assured us that our community will remain a vital part of Tunisian society while they are in government," Chiche added.

Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda party currently holding a plurality of seats in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly, the elected body charged with drafting the country’s new constitution echoed Chiche’s sentiment in an extensive radio interview in Arabic on a local station, Shems FM, the afternoon of December 8th. "Jews and Muslims have been living and working together peacefully here for thousands of years, why should we ask them to leave?" he stated when asked his thoughts on Shalom’s comments.

"I invited the President of the Jewish Community, Mr. Roger Bismuth to meet with me at the Ennahda Party headquarters shorty after the election and we had a very good conversation," Ghannouchi added.

When asked specifically what he thought about the future prospects of Tunisian-Israeli relations, Ghannounchi made his usual condemnations of the Israeli government, but said domestic policy was his main concern. "Isreal is an occupying state, I condemn Israel's ongoing occupation of the Palestinians but right now we have a constitution to draft and the country I am concerned most about is Tunisia," Ghannouchi said.

We are as skeptical of "moderate" Islamism as the next guy, but the stance articulated by Ghannounchi above is precisely the right one—opposing Israel's illegal occupation and expropriation of the Palestinians, while upholding the right of Tunisian Jew to a secure and dignified place in Tunisia. We called for precisely this stance in the case of Libya—and noted the mixed signals there since the fall of Qaddafi. It is instructive that in Iraq—which was "liberated" from its dictator by a US invasion rather than a popular revolution—the remaining Jews are under grave threat.


Tunisian Jews speak out after racist chants

From AFP, Jan. 8:

Jews in Tunisia asked the government Sunday to take steps to avoid a repeat of the anti-Semitic slogans chanted during a visit to the country by Gaza's Hamas leader last week.

"No Tunisian should be insulted, and the government must take measures to ensure this incident is never repeated," Peres Trabelsi, a representative of Tunisia's small Jewish population told AFP after the incident.

Ismail Haniya, prime minister in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, visited Tunis on Thursday to meet the new moderate Islamist-led administration while he was on a tour of the region.

Islamist activists welcoming Haniya were heard chanting slogans like: "Kill the Jews, it is our duty", along with anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian messages.

"There are no Zionists in Tunisia and we don't want to be mixed into the problems of the Middle East," said Trabelsi. "Tunisia is our country."

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