Some members of Tunisia’s small Jewish community have responded after Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Silvan Shalom made another call on the Tunisian Jewish community to immigrate to Israel, this time in a Jerusalem ceremony in honor of Tunisian victims of the holocaust on December 7th.
According to the Tunisian news site “Business News” the Gabes, Tunisia born Israeli Vice-Prime Minister said, “I call on the Jews living in Tunisia to come and live in Israel as soon as possible.” But getting the nearly 1,800 strong Tunisian Jewish community to “make aliyah” or immigrate to Israel may not be an easy task for Shalom for now.
The owner of La Goulette’s Kosher restaurant, Mame Lilly, and former Constituent Assembly candidate Jacob Lellouche insisted that to him, Shalom’s comments were shallow. “Silvan can say whatever he wants. I am Tunisian, this is my country. I will stay here. Silvan can not tell me where to live.”
He added that the only fear he had of the Islamists currently in Tunisia’s government was that they would not succeed in improving Tunisia’s situation. “I fear for Islamists that god will turn against them,” he joked with a tint of sarcasm.
Avraham Chiche, is the director of the Jewish Old Age home in La Goulette. His family immigrated to Tunisia over 500 years ago from Spain during the Spanish inquisition. Chiche feels that Shalom’s comments have been political and he has no plans to leave Tunisia.
“Silvan Shalom needs to mind his own business and let us choose to live where we want to live, instead of making publicity statements for Israel,” said Chiche.
“We fear the small number of Salafists in Tunisia, but not Ennahda, the leadership of Ennahda came to us both before and after the election and assured us that our community will remain a vital part of Tunisian society while they are in government,” Chiche added.
Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist Ennahda party currently holding a plurality of seats in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly, the elected body charged with drafting the country’s new constitution echoed Chiche’s sentiment in an extensive radio interview in Arabic on a local station, Shems FM, the afternoon of December 8th. “Jews and Muslims have been living and working together peacefully here for thousands of years, why should we ask them to leave?” he stated when asked his thoughts on Shalom’s comments.
“I invited the President of the Jewish Community, Mr. Roger Bismuth to meet with me at the Ennahda Party headquarters shorty after the election and we had a very good conversation,” Ghannouchi added.
When asked specifically what he thought about the future prospects of Tunisian-Israeli relations, Ghannounchi made his usual condemnations of the Israeli government, but said domestic policy was his main concern. “Israel is an occupying state, I condemn Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinians but right now we have a constitution to draft and the country I am concerned most about is Tunisia,” Ghannouchi said.
Others contacted in the Jewish community refrained from comment.
A Djerba based silversmith who asked not to be named, said that it was best for him not to respond to Shalom’s comments. Like many other Tunisians he is hoping that Tunisia’s democratic transition succeeds.
“It is best I not respond to Shalom because whatever I say can be misunderstood or distorted by people both here and in Israel. I obviously have not taken these calls seriously, they have been made by Shalom before. I prefer to be vigilant, and patient with this new government to see if the democratic transition will be successful instead of listening to the provocations of Shalom.”