Tunisia Jewish leader welcomes reproof of fanatics

Roger Bismuth credits Islamist party for pledge to protect country's Jews but says actions speak louder than words.

Salafists protest in Tunisia 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Salafists protest in Tunisia 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Jewish leader in Tunisia said on Sunday that the government’s condemnation of a protest last week where participants called for the murder of Jews was reassuring, but added he expected it to take action.
Roger Bismuth, head of the Jewish community, said he was forced to speak out after some 7,000 Salafis gathered in the main square of Tunis and shouted chants against Jews.
“The man who was preaching said ‘slaughter the Jews, kill the Jews,’” he said. “This time I had to react very strongly and I did.”
Bismuth said he gave over 70 interviews to different media in the wake of the demonstration.
Rashid Ghannushi, the leader of Ennahda, the Islamist party that won the recent elections, responded sharply by saying the new government will protect the country’s 1,500 Jewish community.
“Tunisia defends the rights of all citizens,” he was quoted as saying by local media. “We will fight for the rights of all our minorities, including the Jewish minority.”
Bismuth welcomed Ghannushi’s statement but added that time will tell if the commitment is upheld.
“Now I have good words but I’m waiting to see the actions,” Bismuth said. “I did my best and now I have to see the results.”
But while Ghannushi’s tone toward the nation’s Jews has been conciliatory, he has maintained a hostile attitude toward Israel.
On Sunday, he accused former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of “collaborating” with the “Zionists” and “betraying the Palestinians,” the country’s official news agency TAP reported.
“The problem for Tunisians is Zionism and not Judaism,” he was quoted as saying.
Tunisian protesters toppled the regime of longtime dictator Ben Ali last year, inspiring a wave of uprisings across the Arab world. The upheaval, known collectively as the Arab Spring, removed several secularist rulers from power but some worry of a rise of Islamism in their stead. Many observers see Tunisia, where the previously outlawed Ennahda won the elections earlier this year, as a bellwether for the rest of the region.