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
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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
“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.