‘Tunisian Jews unaffected by upheaval’

The AJC is in touch with the Jewish community in Tunisia, which has lived in the country's shores since ancient time.

Tunisia Riots 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Tunisia Riots 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The mass protests which have shaken Tunisia over the weekend and caused longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee have so far not directly affected its Jewish community, a Jewish group said on Saturday.
Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs at the American Jewish Committee, who has been in touch with members of the community in the Mediterranean country, said the demonstrations have remained focused on the government.
“Yesterday there were no signs of rhetoric or violence of any sort or any efforts in any way to target protests or any negative acts against the Jewish community,” Isaacson said. “It’s a dynamic situation, but at this point the target has been towards the state system.”
Isaacson, who had just returned from a visit to Tunisia in December, said he noticed no signs of upheaval during his stay there.
“The situation when I was last there was calm, and law and order prevailed,” he recalled. “There were strict limits on free speech and political expression in general, but walking around the street one did not see signs of unrest.”
Jews have lived on the shores of Tunisia since ancient times.
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The local Jewish population peaked in 1948 at over 100,000, but successive waves of emigration to Israel and France depleted the community over the next couple of decades.
Around 3,000 Jews remain in the country, Isaacson said, most of whom are concentrated in the capital Tunis and Jerba, an island in the south of the country. Ties between the community and the government are good. In 2002, however, a bomb detonated outside the island’s famous El Ghriba synagogue, killing 21 people.
“Tunisia is an interesting place,” Isaacson said. “It’s not like anywhere else. It has a high literacy rate, high education rate and is unique in the Arab world with regards to women’s suffrage and rights.”
Asked how the change in government might affect interreligious relations, he said it was too soon to tell.
“Tunisian Jews have been part of Tunisian society since ancient times, and we will make sure that that tradition of intrastate harmony prevails,” Isaacson said.