Libyan Jewish leader barred from Tripoli conference

Dr. David Gerbi invited to gathering of Amazigh International Congress, then warned not to come.

Dr. David Gerbi 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. David Gerbi 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
ROME – World Organization of Libyan Jewry Representative Dr. David Gerbi was meant to be in Tripoli to address the International Forum of the Constitutional Rights of the Amazigh of Libya on January 12, but his invitation was canceled at the last minute.
Khalid Zekri, president of the Amazigh in Libya, and Fathi Khalifa, president of the Amazigh World Congress, had invited him.
Gerbi, who fled Tripoli with his family in 1967 when the Six Day War led to attacks on Jews in his neighborhood, intended to offer WOLJ’s support for the persecuted Amazigh minority (often referred to as Berbers). He also planned to speak up for the rights of exiled Libyan Jews to restore their over 2,000-year-old heritage and participate as equal citizens in building a new democracy.
Gerbi was uninvited after the December 31 attack on Misrata’s Coptic Church in which two people were killed.
His would-be Amazigh hosts and other political representatives informed him his visit was “premature.”
They said the “Supreme Security Committee” was worried about his safety and suggested he not come personally, but send a video of his speech instead (his speech was not aired).
Italian Foreign Ministry sources told the Libyan-Italian- Jewish Gerbi that they had received information that his participation in the Amazigh Congress would unleash further terrorist attacks in an escalating conflict.
Despite the cancellation, violence in Libya spiraled independently. On January 12, terrorists shot at the Italian consul’s car. His life was saved by a bulletproof window.
Had Gerbi been in Tripoli, he was later told, the attack would have been blamed on his presence.
Based on email exchanges with Libyan representatives, Gerbi deduced that the fear of violent reactions is due to years under Muammar Gaddafi of anti-Israel conditioning, stereotyping all Libyan Jews as “Zionist traitors” with whom the Amazigh fear to be identified.
Gaddafi expelled Libya’s 38,000 Jews in 1968 and confiscated their assets.
In the end, Gerbi remained in Rome, and despite repeated promises by the organizers, his video speech was not shown at the Tripoli congress.
American and Libyan friends and supporters of the cause, both Jewish and not, first expressed hope and then outrage in Facebook chats.
In Gerbi’s censored speech that was, in fact, not aired, he makes ample reference to the 1951 constitution.
The video shows an amiable, young, solitary Libyan Jew wearing a kippa, saying, “I believe it is essential that the Libyan government quickly take concrete steps to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and religious freedom and its support for minorities.”
He quotes Article 11 of the old constitution which states, “Libyans shall be equal before the law. They shall enjoy equal civil and political rights, shall have the same opportunities, and be subject to the same public duties and obligations, without distinction of religion, belief, race, language, wealth, kinship or political or social opinions.”
For years, Gerbi has been struggling to save and restore Libya’s Jewish heritage and help lay groundwork for a new democratic Libya.
His efforts have been acknowledged in support letters from the most varied sources, including the Italian Foreign Ministry; 16 members of the United States Congress; the US State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal; and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Gerbi joined the anti- Gaddafi rebels in 2011, offering them training in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome at Benghazi’s Psychiatric Hospital.
He awakened ancestral memories of good neighborly interreligious friendships, but was forced to return to Italy when Gaddafi’s henchmen tried to kill him.
Sometime later Gerbi returned to Tripoli to join the National Transitional Council of Libya. He was granted permission to remove garbage from Tripoli’s main synagogue in order to pray there.
However, a menacing mob gathered outside the shul, bearing signs in both Hebrew and Arabic and shouting, “There is no place for Jews in Libya,” and he was once more forced to flee.
Gerbi’s new book, I am a Refugee, will be launched in Riva del Garda and various schools of the northern Italian Trentino region on January 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Gerbi says, “I will continue to hope, and affirm my right to refuse to remain silent.”