Tunisia approves entry of Israeli tourists despite opposition

Decision, announced by Tunisian PM causes backlash from opposition who demand hearing of tourism and interior minister.

Tourists ride animals in Djerba, Tunisia 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tourists ride animals in Djerba, Tunisia 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa announced Wednesday that the security authorities in his country have approved the entry of Israeli tourists to Tunisia.
"There is a decision to allow Israeli tourists into Tunisia," Jomaa said at an economic conference in Tunis. 
"The aim is that the tourist season be a success," he said.
The decision caused a backlash from the Tunisian opposition, who were quick to accuse the government of being lenient and "normalizing relations with Israel."
Eighty members of the Tunisian parliament demanded that the Tunisian Minister of Tourism Amal Kirbul and the Interior Minister Rida Separ, be brought for a hearing on the issue.  
The Tunisian prime minister welcomed the hearing on the condition that it be conducted in an "objective and transparent manner, absent any political interests."
A Tunisian media report recently featured the visit of 61 Israelis, who entered the country on Israeli passports, a precedent-setting event in a country that has no relations with Israel.   
In May, Tunisia will host its annual Jewish pilgrimage to the Synagogue of Ghriba, or El Ghriba synagogue, on the island of Djerba.
Every year, Jews from around the world convene there for the Hilula of Ghriba – a feast which features a festive procession on or near Lag B’Omer. The procession traditionally ends at the El Ghriba synagogue, a 19th-century building which is sometimes referred to as the oldest existing synagogue in Africa, according to Georgetown University’s Berkley Center.
Last month, the Tunisian government allocated $6,300 toward renovating the synagogue. Critics, including the human rights lawyer Souhail Ftouh, called the renovation an attempt to control the damage caused to Tunisia’s image as a tourist destination following government authorities’ refusal on March 9 to allow a group of Israelis to disembark at a Tunisian port. The Israelis were passengers of the Norwegian Cruise Line, which scrapped Tunisia from its list of destinations to protest the refusal.
JTA contributed to this report.