Tunisia removes censure of officials favoring Israeli tourism

Tourism Minister Amel Karboul and Deputy Interior Minister for Security Ridha Sfar, were accused of promoting “normalization” of relations with Israel.

By YASSER OKBI
May 10, 2014 21:16
2 minute read.
Tourists ride a camel in Djerba, Tunisia

Tourists ride animals in Djerba, Tunisia 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Tunisian parliament rescinded a no-confidence motion against two high-level government officials over their stated support for allowing Israelis to enter the country.

The two officials, Tourism Minister Amel Karboul and Deputy Interior Minister for Security Ridha Sfar, were accused of promoting “normalization” of relations with Israel over their declared support to open the country’s gates to Israeli travelers.

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The no-confidence measure was submitted to the parliament by the Islamist Ennahda faction, which comprises 89 seats.

The party reversed course after it was learned that two American airlines had canceled flights to Tunisia, which were due to bring hundreds of tourists to the country later this month.

The Canadian Embassy in Tunisia submitted an official protest to Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, expressing sorrow over the decision, “particularly in light of the freedom enshrined in the new Tunisian constitution” that was adopted after the overthrow of longtime ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The censure hearing in parliament was originally scheduled for Friday, but it was put off until Saturday after just 32 of the 80 parliament members who signed the authorization for the hearing showed up.

The two officials were accused of receiving Israeli tourists who had arrived in Tunis and proceeded to visit a local synagogue in Djerba.



Karboul denied the charges, insisting during the hearing that Tunisia ought to receive tourists irrespective of which passport they hold.

Karboul has been the subject of controversy in Tunisia in recent months. She had offered to resign after reports emerged that she visited Israel as part of a UN-sanctioned conference, though her offer was rejected by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa.

Kalfi Sifer, an Interior Ministry official in charge of security, confirmed that Israeli tourists did visit the country and that he made proper security arrangements.

Sifer said that the tourists also possessed Tunisian passports, and that their presence in the country was welcome since it would defuse critics who would accuse the government of discrimination.

This week, Jews from around the world are expected to visit the Tunisian island of Djerba, which is home to one of the oldest synagogues in the world, ahead of annual Lag Ba’omer pilgrimage to the site.

The Jewish population of Tunisia is estimated to be around 1,500.

The Tunisian government has rolled out an ambitious plan to attract tourists to the country that has made headlines as the birthplace of the Arab Spring in 2011.

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