The prosecutor at the Tunisian Court of First Instance has formally accepted the complaint filed by the President of the Tunisian Jewish Community, Roger Bismuth, and has opened an investigation into the circumstances in which a Salafist preacher called for Tunisian youth to wage war against the country’s Jews.
On Friday night, Tunisia’s small Jewish community of just over 1,500 will begin their week-long festival of Passover. For Bismuth, the week leading up to Passover has been particularly busy.
He has met with numerous Tunisian government officials and media outlets to rally support for his case against those threatening violence. Pointing out that the country is in dire need of attracting tourists and foreign investments to Tunisia following the Tunisian Revolution, Bismuth argued that the intolerance of some have turned off much needed international visitors who support the Tunisian economy.
His efforts to gain the backing of the Tunisian government for the nearly 2,600 year-old community seem to be working. He has garnered declarations of support from the Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, the head of the recently elected National Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jafaar, the Minister of Religious Affairs Nourredine Khadmi, and Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda political party, which received 89 of 217 seats in Tunisia’s most recent election.
“We have a celebration [passover] coming and a group of families from abroad booked rooms in a Kosher hotel in our country, but they canceled at the last minute [after the March 25th Salafist protest]… that is to say, what happens in the street does not just concern the Jewish people, it concerns everybody,” Bismuth said after his meeting with Ben Jafaar.
Bismuth argued that tourists follow what other tourists are doing and that calls for killing people by religious hardliners keep tourists out and the jobs they generate away from Tunisia.
The Al-Cherouk newspaper reported on April 3rd that after a meeting with Bismuth, Khadmi and the Imam of the popular Al-Fateh mosque in downtown Tunis declared their support for the Tunisian Jewish Community. “The Jewish community in Tunisia is living here on the principle of equal Tunisian citizenship,” Khadmi said after his meeting with Bismuth. “Harming any monotheistic religion is in contradiction with the rules of Islam and is inconsistent with the Tunisian spirit that is characterized by civilization, openness and peaceful co-existence,” he added.
Al-Cherouk also reported that Khadmi agreed to reinforce his Ministry’s communication with the Jewish Community and invited Bismuth to a future government-organized forum on the issue of human rights and citizenship.
The Tunisian Daily Al-Maghreb reported in a recent interview with Bismuth that Ghannouchi had called Bismuth the very day that a crowd chanted calls for killing Jews as a religious duty while awaiting the arrival of senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on the tarmac at the Tunis-Carthage airport. According to the report, Bismuth originally thought the chants were from a small Salafist minority. However, Ghannouchi allegedly told him that “our sons” were involved and apologized for the chanting.
Ahmed Ellali contributed to this report.