A few hundred angry protesters gathered in central Tripoli on the eve of Yom Kippur on Friday, calling for the deportation of a Libyan Jew who has been trying to reopen a synagogue sealed since ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi expelled the country’s Jewish community in 1967.

The protesters carried signs reading, “There is no place for the Jews in Libya,” and “We don’t have a place for Zionism.”

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The crowds tried to storm Italian Libyan Jewish psychoanalyst David Gerbi’s Corinthia Hotel in central Tripoli. There was also a demonstration in Benghazi in the east of the country.

According to Gerbi, the crowd wanted to forcibly remove him from the hotel.

“They were impeded by hotel and Libyan security and government officials,” he said.


Gerbi said that National Security Adviser Abdel Karim Bazama, rebel leader Mustafa Saghezli, Interior Minister Ahmed Dharat and Justice Minister Muhammad Allaghi were among the government officials present at the hotel.

“The Tripoli crowd dispersed after Allaghi warned that any use of force on the part of the protesters would immediately result in strong international condemnation,” Gerbi said.

“He [Allaghi] reassured them the ‘problem’ would be resolved within 48 hours.”

The demonstrations were ignited by an attempt by Dr.Gerbi to clean the debris and pray in Tripoli’s abandoned Dar Bishi Synagogue. Dr. Gerbi had joined the National Transitional Council (NTC) rebel group last spring, first as a volunteer at the Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital and then joining and helping the rebels themselves.

“This incident has served to expose the dangerous reality simmering beneath the surface,” he said.

“I want to contribute to, not obstruct, the building of a new democratic and pluralistic Libya. It is sad and absurd that my mere presence in Libya, should set off so much hostility and I regret this,” Gerbi said.

“However,” he continued, “what happened reveals the extent of Gaddafi’s anti-Semitic conditioning of an entire generation, those in their forties and fifties. Forty-two years of lies, of hate propaganda falsely accusing Jews of having been paid off to abandon the country in 1967, of having robbed Palestinians of their homes and of planning to colonize Libya.”

“Fortunately, the older generation still recalls warm friendships with former Jewish neighbors,” Gerbi said, “and I will continue to work to restore a 2,300-year-old coexistence and advocate active roles in the NTC for Libyan Jews, for the Libyan Amazigh population, for women and all ethnic and religious minorities.”

On Sunday, after a personal meeting with Libyan and Italian diplomatic representatives, he agreed to return to Rome on Tuesday by military plane in order to ease the tension.

Gerbi said the Italian ambassador in Tripoli claimed that the controversy over his actions was strengthening the extremist wing of Islam in the current internal war in Libya between extremist and more moderate, liberal Muslim forces.

Gerbi had been told he was “complicating matters,” that “the time is not ripe for such actions” and that his security was endangered. In addition, his attempt to clean out the garbage littering the synagogue was defined as “breaking into an archaeological site without permission,” for which he received a police summons.

Gerbi said that as a Libyan Jew, whose citizenship papers were never renewed by the Gaddafi regime, he has “as much right to enter and pray in Jewish religious sites as the Libyan Muslim exiles who have returned have rights to pray in mosques. And there can never be a wrong time for guaranteeing civil rights and religious freedom.”

Italian Foreign Ministry sources said they are following the case closely and working internationally on long-range support for all of the basic principles necessary to the building of a democratic state, which, they said, takes time. They also advised Gerbi to leave now, as have the Libyan authorities, and return to the country at a later date.

Following up on recent correspondence with NTC President Mustafa Jalil, Gerbi is awaiting a final confirmation of the NTC’s acceptance of his bid to become a member of the new government and the country’s representative for Libyan Jewry.

One of the conditions posed for his election to Libya’s future government is that he not be an Israeli citizen. Gerbi is a native Libyan with an Italian passport.