Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Anti-Jewish rhetoric hots up in Tunisia

 Praying in the al-Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba

 Once Tunisia was one of the most secular countries of the Arab world. Now the anti-Jewish rhetoric from Salafists and Islamists in Tunisia is hotting up (as it is in Egypt). Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, has this useful but depressing run-down in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Maurice):

In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Ennahda party in Tunisia, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, received 41 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections and is now ruling the country – and suddenly there are worrying manifestations of anti-Semitism – led by religious figures.

Tunisia had long been known for its pro-Western orientation and its fairly liberal attitude to issues such as the status of women, education and religious tolerance.

Its overall attitude toward the Jews was not, however, markedly different from that of other North African countries.

As long as they recognized the preeminence of Islam, respected their Muslim neighbors and generally behaved as befits second class citizens, they were allowed to live in peace within their communities and to take an active role in the country’s economic and commercial circles.

And in the not so distant past, Jews were treated to the full dhimmi limitations according to the Shari’a: They had to pay a special tax and wear garments identifying them as Jews; they were forbidden to buy real estate and could be drafted every year for a period of forced labor. At times they were accused of imaginary offenses and mobs would loot and burn their houses and shops. By the second half of the 19th century a deepening Western interest in the country led to a gradual lessening of the burden, and discriminatory measures were lifted with the French takeover of 1881.

Habib Bourguiba, first president of the newly independent Tunisia in 1957, was certainly not anti-Semitic, but he did little to stop attacks on Jews and Jewish properties whenever there was a flare-up between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Albert Memmi, the well-known Tunisian-born Jewish writer, noted in his memoirs that the police would always arrive after mobs had finishing looting and burning.

The Six Day War saw unprecedented attacks on the community: The Tunis Great Synagogue was attacked and Torah scrolls were burned.

The writing was on the wall.

The process of exile which had started in the early ’50s accelerated. There were more than 100,000 Jews living in Tunisia in 1948. Today there are an estimated 2,000 left, many of them living on the island of Jerba.

In recent months there have been more and more reports of virulent verbal attacks on Jews as a whole, coming mostly from extremist Islamic leaders. During the visit of Hamas’s Gaza head of government Ismail Haniyeh last November, Salfists, whipped into a frenzy, yelled slogans calling for the destruction of the Jews.

Quoting French sources, the London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi reported on December 12 that Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Suhayli, preaching from the pulpit of a mosque in Rades, delivered a lengthy tirade against the Jews: “O Allah, you know what those accursed Jews have done, the corruption they spread across Earth... Strike them so that there is not one of them left.

Allah, make the men and women sterile. Bring down your wrath and your hatred on them.”

He delivered the sermon on Friday, November 30, and it was broadcast live on Hannibal TV, a popular channel with a large audience, and later taken up by a number of Internet sites.

In all fairness, there was an immediate outcry and lawyers for an association defending the rights of minorities filed a complaint against the cleric on the grounds that he unlawfully incited hatred between races, religions and peoples. No condemnation, however, was forthcoming from the government.

Al-Quds al-Arabi stressed that since the fall of the Ben Ali regime there had been a number of blatant attacks against the Jews.

Read article in full

Rights group lodges complaint against Imam

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