David Gerbi's re-opening of a Tripoli synagogue* has attracted much media coverage, but Charles Levinson in the Wall Street Journal is the only one to point out that Gerbi acted with the support of local residents, without the permission of the new rebel government. The new regime is not willing to address 'the Jewish issue' yet, and even fears for Gerbi's safety:
Libya's new leaders have taken historic steps to empower other long-persecuted minorities, including the country's Berbers. But the return of Libyan Jews is certain to prove a far-more-sensitive issue.
All but a handful of Libya's some 40,000 Jews fled the country between the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967. Mr. Gerbi said those Jews and their descendants now number around 200,000.
Many of the Jews who fled, including Mr. Gerbi's family, left behind substantial property holdings. Any attempts to reclaim those properties, as Mr. Gerbi said he would like to do, would likely worsen a relationship already marred by decades of mistrust and simmering hatred.
In Libya, as in much of the Arab world, animosity toward Israel has often translated into vehement anti-Semitism. One of the more common swipes at Col. Gadhafi in recent months by Libyans was the widely believed allegation that he had Jewish grandparents.
Further complicating the question of how to handle Libya's Jewish diaspora, most of the Jews emigrated to Israel and are now Israeli citizens. Even most Libyans who fully support the repatriation of Libyan Jews say that shouldn't include those who went to Israel.
The country's new leadership has tread carefully around the issue. NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil met with Mr. Gerbi in Benghazi late last month. Libya's Berber minority have emerged as vocal advocates of Libyan Jews, with some prominent Berber leaders backing Mr. Gerbi's bid to secure a seat on the country's governing council.
Still, Mr. Gerbi said his request for formal permission to reopen the synagogue was totally ignored. NTC officials responded coolly to the news of the synagogue's reopening, calling it premature to tackle such a sensitive issue. It was unclear whether they would allow Mr. Gerbi to go forward with his plans to renovate and restore the synagogue or would move to stop it.
"It should be no problem, but this isn't the time for it," said NTC spokesman Jalal el-Gallal. "This is an issue that needs to be addressed, but only when there is a stable and legitimate elected government in place."
Mr. Gallal said he feared an attack by even a single lone extremist against Mr. Gerbi could derail the new leadership's efforts to establish a stable and functioning government and be used by critics to discredit the new government in U.S. and European capitals.