Tunisian Jews feel safe under new government

"We are all happy that the dictatorship has gone," Jewish leader tells ‘Post.’

la ghriba syangogue tunisia_311 (photo credit: Mohamed Hammi / Reuters)
la ghriba syangogue tunisia_311
(photo credit: Mohamed Hammi / Reuters)
Almost two months after a popular uprising ousted longtime Tunisian dictator Zine Abidine Ben Ali, giving rise to fears in some quarters that the country might be swept by an Islamic revolution, Tunisian Jews said on Tuesday that they had not been targeted by extremists so far and felt safe under the country’s new government.
Roger Bismuth, the president of Tunisia’s Jewish community, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from the capital, Tunis, that local Jews considered themselves part of the upheaval that had brought unexpected political change to the country.
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“As Jews, we are part of the revolution, and we are all happy that the dictatorship has gone,” he said, adding, “There’s been nothing against the Jews, but the fear does exist that someone might take advantage of it.”
There have, nonetheless, been two exceptions to that rule. The first occurred two weeks ago when a few dozen Muslim protesters hurled epithets at Jewish worshipers outside a synagogue in Tunis.
“We had a little demonstration two weeks ago, a very short one which lasted six minutes,” Bismuth said. “They screamed that they hated Jews, and after a few minutes they left.”
The second took place in January, when a makeshift synagogue not far from the island of Jerba in the south was burned to the ground. In an interview at the time, Bismuth said the arson was probably an act of vandalism, not anti-Semitism.
Both events have been minor and certainly do not represent the fulfillment of some of the predictions made at the start of the political tumult, that radical elements might direct their outrage against Jewish individuals and institutions.
Jews have lived in this corner of the Mediterranean since antiquity, long before the birth of modern Tunisia. Starting in the 1940s, Jews were subject to official state persecution, and several pogroms took place.
Between 1942 and 1967, the number of Jews in the country plummeted from 100,000 to 20,000. Now, some 1,500 Jews live there: 1,000 in Jerba and the rest mostly in Tunis.
Over the last couple of decades, despite a 2002 terrorist attack on a synagogue in Jerba that killed 21 people, the Jewish population has received much better treatment than in the past, thanks in part to protection it was granted by the Ben Ali government.
Fears that its collapse might create a power vacuum that would be exploited by radical elements have not been realized, and only one Jewish family has left the country for good since January. Jewish Agency officials said the family’s decision to make aliya had been a long time coming and was not directly related to the uprising.
“We will remain vigilant,” Bismuth said. “But so far there have been no attacks on Jews.”
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East