Tunisian Jews say tensions in country calmer

Jewish Agency head: Situation still worrisome, chances of terrorist violence against Tunisian Jews; many from community desire aliya

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
January 18, 2011 20:06
2 minute read.
Rioters in Tunisia

Tunisia Riots 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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The violent protests that have shaken Tunisia over the past few days calmed down on Tuesday – although the political situation in the Mediterranean country remains precarious, a Jewish leader there said.

Roger Bismuth, president of the Jewish community in Tunisia, told The Jerusalem Post about the volatile atmosphere in the capital, Tunis, following riots that caused longtime president Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali to flee.

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“The streets have been quite agitated today because [protesters] were not happy with the government, but they are not shooting anymore,” Bismuth said. “There are no dangerous demonstrations – just people expressing their needs and desires.

“The situation is not easy because all the parties in the so-called ‘opposition’ are coming back and want space,” he said. “It’s been a big revolution, and not easy to reclaim control.”

According to Bismuth, the protests have not been directed against any of Tunisia’s Jews or their institutions.

“This is a Tunisian revolution, and it has not affected the Jews or foreigners – or anyone,” he explained. “Protesters passed by the synagogue and nobody did anything.”



The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee said it was monitoring the situation closely.

“We’ve explored all the scenarios and options, and we’re considering the needs of the community,” said Judy Amit, the JDC’s global director of international development.

“[Jews] have been living there for 2,000 years, so they are the best to decide what’s best for them.”

Approximately 1,500 Jews live in Tunisia – about 1,000 on the island of Jerba, and the rest in Tunis.

“[For] a few days local workers did not come to the Jewish old-age home, but now they’ve returned,” Amit said.

“Local workers have returned to their jobs. Bakeries and food is accessible and Jewish schools are waiting for the government to open all schools.”

Jewish Agency chairman Nathan Sharansky said his organization was also following developments in Tunisia closely, and was ready to help should the need arise.

“The Jewish Agency is using all of its emergency response assets – and is working with its partners in such operations – to monitor the situation and provide the needed assistance to the members of the Jewish community,” Sharansky said in a statement. “As more information becomes available and can be shared, I will update you to the extent possible without jeopardizing our efforts.”

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