'Tunisian arson was not aimed at makeshift synagogue'

Jewish official says fire which broke out in Jewish place of worship was vandalism, not an attack against the Jewish community.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
February 1, 2011 17:50
2 minute read.
Rioters in Tunisia

Tunisia Riots 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

A Tunisian Jewish leader on Tuesday said that the burning of a building that served as a synagogue in the South of the country was not an attack on the local Jewish community.

Roger Bismuth, the president of the Jewish community in Tunisia, told The Jerusalem Post that the fire that broke out at a makeshift Jewish place of worship in the town of Ghabes was probably not an act of anti-Semitism, but one of vandalism.
 
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“It was a room used as a synagogue by Jews who did not want to go to a synagogue which was far away,” he said. “It is their fault, really, because they left it open... This is not an attack on the Jewish community.”

Earlier, news wires quoted a member of the Jewish community as saying the fire was politically motivated and that local security forces had willfully ignored it.

“Someone set fire to the synagogue on Monday night, and the Torah scrolls were burned,” Trabelsi Perez told AFP.

“What astonished me was that there were police not far from the synagogue,” added Perez, who is also head of the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba, the oldest synagogue in Africa.

In April 2002, 21 people were killed, including 16 European tourists, when al- Qaida bombers attacked Ghriba.

Since riots broke out in Tunisia two weeks ago, setting off a wave of regional unrest and inspiring the current stand-off between the government and protesters in Egypt, there have been no registered attacks on the Jewish community in that country despite fears that Islamic extremists may take advantage of the chaos to harm Jews.

Bismuth said the situation in Tunisia had calmed down significantly in recent days, although some protesters still occupied one of the main squares of Tunis.

“The revolution is over, but now there are some crowds of people with no jobs and other protesters there,” he said. “Right now we are building the constitution and preparing the next election in the next four months.”

Meanwhile, no attacks were reported on Egypt’s tiny Jewish community, which numbers around 70 people, or any of its institutions. One report from Cairo indicated that the stores on the street where the city’s biggest synagogue is located were looted, although the synagogue itself remained untouched.

Members of the country’s remaining Jewish population, which once numbered over 100,000 people, were extremely wary of speaking to the press on Tuesday and declined to give interviews.

Asked what he thought of the uprising in Egypt, Bismuth said he believed it would go much the same way as the protests in his country had.

“Egypt will follow the same as we do, and I believe the president will leave anytime now,” he said. “What’s significant is that for the first time, the army refused to shoot the people.”


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