Rebels ask leader of UK’s Libyan Jews to run for office

ByGIL STERN STERN SHEFLER, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
August 23, 2011 01:05

Raphael Luzon tells 'Post' that rebel council chief told him post-Gaddafi gov't should include women and Jews.

Libyan rebels during training exercise

Libyan rebels during training exercise 311 (R). (photo credit:REUTERS/Bob Strong)

The day after the fall of Tripoli to the rebels, the leader of a Libyan-Jewish Diaspora group said he was offered by the emerging ruling power to run for office in free elections in that country.

Raphael Luzon, the head of Jews of Libya UK, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil recently invited him to return to his country of birth and participate in the political discourse.



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“A week ago I received an [invitation] from the chief of the rebels,” he said referring to Abdul Jalil, a former justice minister and current chairman of the rebel council in Benghazi.

“They proposed for me to take part in one of the parties because they would like it to be open to all people including women and Jews.”


The Benghazi-born Jew, whose family was forced to flee Libya following a pogrom in 1967, said he was waiting for further developments before he gave a definitive answer.

“I said I would accept it once I see it is real democracy and the proposal is offered,” he said. “If I do it I do it for one matter: the historical matter. The first Arab country that proposed that a Jew run in a free election.”

Jews have lived in Libya since ancient times. At its peak during the 1930s the Jewish community in Libya numbered 25,000 but persecution by Italy and Germany during World War II and a series of state-sponsored pogroms after Libya became independent in 1951 took a toll and its members immigrated mostly to Israel, Italy and the UK. The last Jew in Libya left the country almost a decade ago.

From his base in London, Luzon has been in contact with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime over the past decade representing the demands of Jewish Libyans abroad. He visited his country of birth several times and met with the Libyan dictator privately twice.

If he were to return to Libya, Luzon said the reconstruction of the war-torn country and the restitution of Jewish assets which were confiscated by the Libyan regime to their rightful owners would top his political agenda.

“As you know we left there 82 synagogues, land and property and I would like to take care of this because it belongs to the Jewish community of Libya,” he said.

Luzon dismissed fears that the northern African country might emerge as a hotbed for radical Islam.

“No country in northern Africa has a tradition of Islamic extremism,” he said. “They’re never Islamist. Perhaps there will be a small party in Libya but different than the ones in Egypt.”

The 57-year-old Luzon also did not rule out the option that Israeli Jews of Libyan descent would be free to visit their country of origin similarly to other northern African countries.

“If it will be democratic there will be no reason not to visit, like in Tunisia and Morocco,” he said.

He emphasized that all this depended on the outcome of fighting in the capital, which is still raging between the rebels and forces loyal to the Libyan dictator, who has so far evaded capture.

“First they have to get rid of Gaddafi, rebuild the country and decide which direction to take,” he said.
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