Gov’t to offer Tunisian Jews more absorption packages

After regime fall, J’lem concerned by rise in anti-Semitism; local leaders say no significant situation change; 40-50 Jews already here.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
March 25, 2011 01:59
2 minute read.
People feeling Tunisia approach an Italian ship.

Tunisia refugees 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Israel is planning to offer Tunisian Jews interested in emigrating following the recent uprising in the country a special absorption package, but members of the community said on Thursday that they were unaware of any significant change in their situation.

“They’ll receive a year of no-questions accommodation at an aliya center, and other benefits on top of what others get,” said Jewish Agency for Israel spokesman Haviv Rettig Gur.

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Earlier Thursday, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced that the government would debate the details of the package, which will purportedly offer NIS 10,000 to Tunisian Jews in addition to benefits awarded to other olim.

“The regime change in Tunisia as a result of the Jasmine revolution... has brought about the Islamization of the government and rise in anti-Semitism,” stated a ministry document quoted by Israeli media. “There has a been an increasingly worsening attitude by the authorities and society toward the Jewish community.”

Elad Sonn, the ministry spokesman, confirmed the wording of the document and said it was based on “information from the Jewish Agency.”

Roger Bismuth, president of the Jewish community in Tunisia, said he had not noted a change in the government’s attitude toward Jews, nor did he know of plans by community members to leave the country en masse, although he didn’t rule it out entirely.

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“I doubt anybody has heard anything like that,” he said by phone from Tunis on Thursday. “It might be true, there’s so much gossip going around.”

When the uprising began in December, there were fears Islamist groups might take advantage of the instability and attack the country’s Jewish community, numbering approximately 1,500 people who are on the island of Jerba in the south and in the capital, Tunis.

So far, however, there have been only a few minor anti-Semitic incidents.

“During the revolution, they burned a shrine of a big Jewish rabbi outside in the country, and months ago some people passed the synagogue in Tunis and one said, ‘Kill the Jews,’ but otherwise this is a Tunisian revolution, not a revolution against the Jews,” said Bismuth, who is a former member of the Tunisian senate.

In response to protesters’ harassment of worshipers at the synagogue, Bismuth petitioned his government, which pledged to provide better security for the Jewish community.

Since the uprising began, a total of between 40 and 50 Jews have chosen to move from Tunisia to Israel, JAFI officials said – not “25 families” as Hebrew-language news website Ynet had reported. Some of them had planned to emigrate before the uprising started.

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