The ancient El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, was targeted in a shooting attack on Tuesday night that left five dead.
The Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday morning that among those killed in the attack were two Jewish cousins, Aviel and Ben Hadad.
A guard at the naval center of the Tunisian national guard in Djerba killed a colleague and then headed for the synagogue, which was filled with worshipers and visitors from abroad celebrating the Lag Ba’omer festival. He opened fire at the gathering; security guards at the location responded and killed the shooter.
Antisemitism plaguing the Jewish community of Djerba
Antisemitism has been plaguing the Jewish community of Djerba for some time. Israel has been aware of the problem and has been working to find solutions in the months leading up to the attack, the Jerusalem Post’s Zvika Klein has revealed.
Klein found that the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel have been monitoring a serious threat against the Jewish community in Djerba for several months. Israel has been taking action under the radar to counter the threat.
Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Minister Amichai Chikli tweeted on Wednesday that there was a discussion in the ministry along with The Jewish Agency more than a month prior to the attack about “a joint action that would help the members of the community who wish to immigrate to Israel.”
אירוע קשה בקהילה היהודית בטוניס, שני הרוגים מהקהילה היהודית ושני שוטרים שפעלו לסכל את הפיגוע, האירוע הסתיים. לפני כחודש וחצי קיימנו לנוכח המתיחות במדינה דיון חרום של משרד התפוצות, העלייה והסוכנות היהודית ובו סיכמנו על פעולה משותפת שתסייע לבני הקהילה החפצים בכך לעלות ארצה.— עמיחי שיקלי - Amichai Chikli (@AmichaiChikli) May 10, 2023
As the Jewish state, it is Israel’s responsibility not only to speak out regularly against antisemitism around the world but also to offer Jewish communities support – and, if needed, shelter – in the face of anti-Jewish attacks. The government and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry have done exactly what they are tasked with doing: protecting the Jewish people, both in Israel and abroad.
Israel is working to develop ways to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) more easily accessible for members of this community at risk. The Jewish Agency is providing support to bereaved families.
That being said, Israel could not have prevented this from occurring. While Israel and The Jewish Agency play a role in helping to secure Jewish communities around the world, there is no Israeli security presence within Tunisia that could have thwarted the attack.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of local governments to protect their Jewish communities. Israel’s status as the homeland of the Jewish people does not absolve governments of their duty to ensure the safety of their Jewish citizens.
If Israel knew about this risk to the Jewish community in Tunisia, it is hard to imagine that the local government was completely unaware of the threat to its Jewish citizens.
It appears, in fact, that the Tunisian government has played a role in fostering an environment of hostility targeting the Jewish community.
“Jews are being picked on by the press and by local police, with a sense of antisemitism coming from the local government,” a senior Israeli government official reportedly said two months ago, referring to the Jewish community in Djerba.
There is a direct link between antisemitism propagated or tolerated by local governments and physical attacks on Jews. The Tunisian government should come under pressure from its interlocutors in the international community to immediately cease its targeting of the country’s Jewish community and ensure the community’s protection.
Tuesday’s attack came two days after the Israeli government passed a historic decision to officially commemorate Jews killed in antisemitic attacks around the world. Among the steps under consideration are an annual state ceremony to honor the memory of Jews killed in anti-Jewish attacks and the creation of a physical memorial.
Israel’s creation marked a turning point in Jewish history. Jews are no longer at the mercy of hostile governments – they have a place to go and a government and military that can help ensure their protection, no matter where they might be.
But Israel cannot and should not be expected to be the sole guarantor of Jewish safety around the world. Local governments must be expected to protect their local Jewish communities – and certainly to refrain from anything that might endanger them. Israel, Jewish communities, and our friends and allies should demand nothing less.