Tunisian Jews are far from convinced by the reassurances of the Ennahda Islamist party leader, Rashid Ghannouchi, condemning the anti-Jewish chants which greeted Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, on his arrival in Tunisia. Too little, too late, says one Jew, interviewed by Kouichi Shiranayagi for Tunisia Live:
In the aftermath of Gaza based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Tunisia, the Tunisian Jewish community is shaken, looking for answers and hoping the Tunisian government will act quickly to address the community’s fears.
Many in the small community feel the Tunisian government was slow to condemn violent chants of “kick the Jews- it’s our religious duty,” “expel the Jews- it’s our religious duty,” and “kill the Jews- it’s our religious duty” by a group attending the welcoming ceremony of Haniyeh at the Tunis Carthage Airport.
Ennahda officials have condemned the anti-Jewish chants as isolated incidents not reflecting the values of the the Ennahda Party. Rachid Ghannouchi the leader of Ennahda condemned the anti-Jewish slogans as unrepresentative of the spirit of Islam or it’s teachings. He attributed the slogans to a fringe handful of individuals aiming to undermine the image of Ennahda among hundreds who came to welcome Haniyeh. “Ennahda calls on Tunisians of all faiths to stand together and be united for the good of the country,” he said.
However, to many in the Jewish community the visit of Haniyeh has brought them new found fear.
Ezekiel Haddad is a Djerba based Hebrew teacher. “I don’t understand why the Tunisian government allowed someone with no political legitimacy to come to Tunisia and get the opportunity to tour the country with the welcome that he got,” Haddad lamented.
While many Western governments have widely praised Tunisia’s post-revolution transition, their much needed support to Tunisia could be lost by visits of leaders of what they consider to be terrorist organizations like Haniyeh’s according to Haddad.
“Why is the Tunisian government destroying the goodwill with the world Tunisia has been building since the revolution?” Haddad asked. ”I don’t have a problem with Haniyeh visiting Tunisia as a person but I disagree with the way his visit brought together the worst people in Tunisian society,” he said.
Haniyeh’s five day visit in Tunisia included meetings with officials in the Tunisian government, visits to cities that played a critical role in the Tunisian Revolution such as Sidi Bouzid and Kassrine, visits to Tunisian historical centers of Islamic significance such as the Mosque of Oqba Ibn Nafaa in Kairouan and large rallies promoting Hamas.
The statements currently coming from the government have been too little, too late according to Haddad. He wants the recently elected Constituent Assembly to open an investigation into what happened during Haniyeh’s visit and try those who chanted the hateful slogans.
“I want the people who shouted ‘kill the Jews’ punished,” Haddad said “All the Jews in Djerba are scared, uptight, and uncomfortable with what has happened, very few will speak truthfully of their level of fear now.”
While Haddad was willing to be named for this story, a Djerbian based jeweler was not.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not our problem,” he complained.
“I have grown up my whole life breaking bread with my Muslim neighbors, living freely with my Muslim friends. Tunisia has always been an open society and this visit by Haniyeh has caught our community completely by surprise.” The jeweler stressed that Islam does not call for killing people “rabi yuster (may god protect us from a possible calamity).”
However, the Jeweler believes that since the government was slow to act against the violent chanting, there is a strong possibility that the government really has no problem with the violent chants. ”We don’t know what the government is going to do, they need to punish those who made those chants but since they have not they are tacitly endorsing their message– that’s a big problem.”