Tunisian president sorry for antisemitic remarks, rabbi says

"The President of Tunisia a few minutes ago called up the chief rabbi of Djerba, Rabbi Haim Bitan and apologized for his diatribe against the Jews, faulting them for unrest in the country."

Presidential candidate Kais Saied speaks during a news conference after the announcement of the results in the first round of Tunisia's presidential election (photo credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)
Presidential candidate Kais Saied speaks during a news conference after the announcement of the results in the first round of Tunisia's presidential election
(photo credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)
Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed for accusing Jews of being behind instability in the country, Conference of European Rabbis president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said yesterday.
“The president of Tunisia a few minutes ago called up the chief rabbi of Djerba, Rabbi Haim Bitan, and apologized for his diatribe against the Jews, faulting them for unrest in the country,” Goldschmidt tweeted.
Saïed seemed to refer to “the Jews who are stealing” while discussing the political situation with Tunisian citizens, as heard in a video posted to his Facebook page on Tuesday.
However, others have said that Saïed did not refer to Jews at all, and said “those who are sitting around stealing” in Tunisian dialect.
The edited, three-minute clip features Saïed meeting with members of the public on the street in a poor neighborhood, according to the video’s caption. He wore a mask as protection against the novel coronavirus and some of his remarks were muffled.
Saïed's office denied making any reference to religion, saying that "this issue is not raised in Tunisia."
The statement from the president's office said Saïed "differentiates between Judaism on the one hand, and Zionism on the other," and that he invited the chief rabbi of Tunisia to attend his inauguration in 2019. 
The Conference of European Rabbis expressed “deep concern” after Saïed’s attributed remarks about Jews stealing.
“We consider that the Tunisian government is the guarantor of the security of Tunisian Jews,” Goldschmidt said. “Such allegations threaten the integrity of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world.”
Tunisia, the only Arab state that peacefully transitioned to democracy after the Arab Spring protests in the early 2010s, recently marked 10 years since the revolution, with protests breaking out and demonstrators chanting “the people want the fall of the regime,” as they did in 2011.
Tunisia has experienced deteriorating public services along with worsening economic and social problems in the past year. The lack of tourism due to coronavirus led the economy to drop more than 20% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 2019.
Political instability has exacerbated the problems, with tensions rooted in disputes over the division of powers between the president and Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and a bitterly fragmented parliament unable to produce a stable government.
Saïed, a politician newcomer elected president in 2019, said in a pre-election debate ties with Israel constitute “high treason.” He also said Tunisia is at war with Israel.
The president added that Jews without “dealings with Zionists” or Israeli passports may visit synagogues in Tunisia.
Hundreds of Israelis of Tunisian origin visit the Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, each year on Lag Ba’omer.
Reuters contributed to this report.