In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Ennahda party in Tunisia, an offshoot of the
Muslim Brotherhood, received 41 percent of the vote in the parliamentary
elections and is now ruling the country – and suddenly there are worrying
manifestations of anti-Semitism – led by religious figures.
long been known for its pro-Western orientation and its fairly liberal attitude
to issues such as the status of women, education and religious
Its overall attitude toward the Jews was not, however,
markedly different from that of other North African countries.
As long as
they recognized the preeminence of Islam, respected their Muslim neighbors and
generally behaved as befits second class citizens, they were allowed to live in
peace within their communities and to take an active role in the country’s
economic and commercial circles.
And in the not so distant past, Jews
were treated to the full dhimmi limitations according to the Shari’a: They had
to pay a special tax and wear garments identifying them as Jews; they were
forbidden to buy real estate and could be drafted every year for a period of
forced labor. At times they were accused of imaginary offenses and mobs would
loot and burn their houses and shops. By the second half of the 19th century a
deepening Western interest in the country led to a gradual lessening of the
burden, and discriminatory measures were lifted with the French takeover of
Habib Bourguiba, first president of the newly independent Tunisia
in 1957, was certainly not anti-Semitic, but he did little to stop attacks on
Jews and Jewish properties whenever there was a flare-up between Israel and its
Arab neighbors. Albert Memmi, the well-known Tunisian-born Jewish writer, noted
in his memoirs that the police would always arrive after mobs had finishing
looting and burning.
The Six Day War saw unprecedented attacks on the
community: The Tunis Great Synagogue was attacked and Torah scrolls were
The writing was on the wall.
The process of exile which
had started in the early ’50s accelerated. There were more than 100,000 Jews
living in Tunisia in 1948. Today there are an estimated 2,000 left, many of them
living on the island of Jerba.
In recent months there have been more and
more reports of virulent verbal attacks on Jews as a whole, coming mostly from
extremist Islamic leaders. During the visit of Hamas’s Gaza head of government
Ismail Haniyeh last November, Salfists, whipped into a frenzy, yelled slogans
calling for the destruction of the Jews.
Quoting French sources, the
London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi reported on December 12 that Imam Sheikh
Ahmed al-Suhayli, preaching from the pulpit of a mosque in Rades, delivered a
lengthy tirade against the Jews: “O Allah, you know what those accursed Jews
have done, the corruption they spread across Earth... Strike them so that there
is not one of them left.
Allah, make the men and women sterile. Bring
down your wrath and your hatred on them.”
He delivered the sermon on
Friday, November 30, and it was broadcast live on Hannibal TV, a popular channel
with a large audience, and later taken up by a number of Internet
In all fairness, there was an immediate outcry and lawyers for an
association defending the rights of minorities filed a complaint against the
cleric on the grounds that he unlawfully incited hatred between races, religions
and peoples. No condemnation, however, was forthcoming from the
stressed that since the fall of the Ben Ali
regime there had been a number of blatant attacks against the Jews.
February 2012, Islamists who had gathered to welcome Egyptian cleric Wagdi
Ghanaim greeted him with chants of “Death to the Jews.”
In March, during
demonstrations in Tunis, a Salafi sheikh called on Tunisian youth to train in
order to kill the Jews.
In November, the police arrested four Libyan
citizens and a Tunisian policeman who were planning to kidnap a young Jew in
order to demand a ransom from his family.
Not all incidents find their
way into print. Salafist organizations buoyed by the success of the Muslim
Brotherhood in the parliamentary elections are demonstrating throughout the
country, clashing with liberal forces and clamoring for the adoption of Shari’a
laws. Unfortunately, hatred toward the Jews is part of their
Rashed Ghannouchi, who heads Ennahada, has expressed his wish
to come to an understanding with the Salafists’ movement. In the past, he had
been known to call for the destruction of Israel.
In fact, Israel is very
much on the agenda, since a disposition in the first draft of the constitution
made public in September would have made it a criminal offense to normalize
relations with the Jewish state. There were protests in Tunisia and abroad, with
Human Rights Watch condemning the move. It remains to be seen whether the
article will be retained in the definite draft.
According to reliable
sources, the appointment of a Jew as minister of tourism was blocked last month
by extremist members of Ennahada.
Moderate members of that party such as
Prime Minister Hamadi Jabali had promoted the appointment of Rene Trabelsi, head
of the Jewish Community of Jerba, in order to show the world that Tunisia was
not anti- Semitic.
Thought the Tunisian government from time to time
makes reassuring statements on the issue, it is obvious that Muslim clerics
believe that a regime led by the Brotherhood will let them intensify their
incitement against the Jews.
A similar phenomenon can be observed in
Egypt, cradle of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hassan al-Banna and Sayed Qutub,
the founding fathers of the movement, in the 1930s transformed anti-Jewish
hatred rooted in the Koran into a new anti-Semitism blaming the Jews for every
evil under the sun and calling for their elimination.
It seems as if the
Arab Spring which was to set the Arab world on the path of progress is morphing
even in Tunisia into the most extreme forms of Islamic fanaticism.The
writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former
ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.
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