Vandals torch Ramle synagogue

Police suspect the blaze at the place of worship associated with the local Jewish Tunisian community was a hate crime.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER,
December 23, 2011 01:59
2 minute read.
Tunisian Jew reads from Torah in Tunis

Tunisian Jew prays in synagogue_311. (photo credit: Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi)

 
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Unidentified persons torched the Tunisian El Ghriba Synagogue in Ramle on Wednesday night, the fifth time the building has been set on fire of late, locals said.

Police suspect the blaze at the place of worship associated with the local Jewish Tunisian community was a hate crime.

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The attack took Israel’s Jews of Tunisian origin by surprise.

Miriam Gez-Avigail, a community activist, said the arson was “shocking” and hoped police will catch the culprits soon.

“There are all sorts of suspicions,” she said. “Some lead to the Arab community, others to part of the Jewish community in the city. We cannot point a finger at the moment.”

She said the incident underscored the importance of completing the construction of a Tunisian Jewish community center in Jerusalem, which has been stalled because of a lack of funds.

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The torching of the synagogue in Israel came a few weeks after Vice Premier Silvan Shalom called on the remaining 1,800 Jews in Tunisia to make aliya, sparking a minor diplomatic row with the newly elected government in Tunis.

Last week, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki responded to Shalom’s call by meeting with Tunisia’s Chief Rabbi Haim Bittan and inviting Tunisian Jews in Israel to return to the country.

“Tunisian Jews will always remain Tunisians, whether they live in Israel or in the USA,” he said, adding that the country was safe for Jews.

Speaking over the phone from Tunis on Thursday. Roger Bismuth, the president of the Jewish community in Tunisia, was still angry over Shalom’s comments.

“Personally, I think it was a very stupid thing to say,” he said. “He says whatever he wants but he doesn’t realize that I am a Tunisian and that people like me have our families and factories here.”

He said Jews felt safe in Tunisia and that so far he had been pleasantly surprised by the new Islamist government’s policies toward the non-Muslim minority.

Back in Ramle, Police on Thursday said a separate arson incident in the mixed city, involving the torching of a car of a national-religious high school principal, was probably not a sectarian incident.

Three Arab-Israelis were arrested after the vehicle was set on fire.

“We believe this is not more than a feud between neighbors,” a source familiar with the investigation said.

The suspects are still being questioned in custody.

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