Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party said in a statement Saturday that Jews living in the North African country were citizens with “all their rights and duties.”A report on reactions by Tunisia's Jewish community is interesting.
The party, which emerged as a dominant force in October elections, criticized an invitation last week by Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom for Tunisian Jews to settle in Israel.
“Tunisia remains, today and tomorrow, a democratic state that respects its citizens and looks after them regardless of their religion,” Ennahda said.
It added that “members of the Jewish community in Tunisia are citizens enjoying all their rights and duties.”
Tunisian-born Shalom on Wednesday called on Jews living in the country “to settle in Israel as soon as possible,” speaking at a Jerusalem ceremony for Jewish Holocaust victims in Tunisia.
Tunisia is home to about 1,500 Jews, mostly on the island of Djerba.
Ennahda called Shalom's comments “irresponsible” and “irrational” and said “making this kind of statement at this particular time is very suspicious.”
The head of the Jewish community in Tunisia, Roger Bismuth, reportedly said that “all this fuss made around Silvan Shalom’s statements is a storm in a teacup and an attempt to undermine the process initiated by Tunisia after freeing itself from the yoke of dictatorship.”
“No foreign party has the right to interfere in Tunisia’s affairs, including those of the Jewish community living in this country for over 3,000 years,” he said, according to a report by the Tunisian news agency TAP.
He added that “the Jewish community loves Tunisia and does not consider leaving it,” the report said.
The owner of La Goulette’s Kosher restaurant, Mame Lilly, and former Constituent Assembly candidate Jacob Lellouche insisted that to him, Shalom’s comments were shallow. “Silvan can say whatever he wants. I am Tunisian, this is my country. I will stay here. Silvan can not tell me where to live.”But...
He added that the only fear he had of the Islamists currently in Tunisia’s government was that they would not succeed in improving Tunisia’s situation. “I fear for Islamists that god will turn against them,” he joked with a tint of sarcasm.
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.
“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.
Others contacted in the Jewish community refrained from comment.The fact that no Jews are willing to express any reservations publicly speaks volumes about where the truth is.
A Djerba based silversmith who asked not to be named, said that it was best for him not to respond to Shalom’s comments. Like many other Tunisians he is hoping that Tunisia’s democratic transition succeeds.
“It is best I not respond to Shalom because whatever I say can be misunderstood or distorted by people both here and in Israel. I obviously have not taken these calls seriously, they have been made by Shalom before. I prefer to be vigilant, and patient with this new government to see if the democratic transition will be successful instead of listening to the provocations of Shalom.”
It sounds like Jews of Tunisia are a lot more nervous than is being reported.