With thanks: JIMENA
While the Tunisian goverment is busy making propaganda videos to show that Jews and Muslims live in perfect harmony, the reality is more complex. This radio report by Naomi Scherbel-Ball of DW captures the sense of foreboding that many people in Tunisia feel, now that an Islamist party is in power. Here is an extract from a transcript:
Jamel Bettaieb comes from Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Tunisian
revolution. The young language teacher and activist was at the heart of
the protests that led to the downfall of the Tunisian president and
triggered the Arab Spring. Bettaieb is now concerned that freedom of
speech is providing a platform for extremists to voice hate campaigns
against Tunisia's Jews.
"In the last few months an imam went on television and spent an hour
speaking negatively about the Jews. Where was the reaction of the
government? There was nothing. I criticize society. Civil society should
say this is unacceptable. People should care," said Bettaieb.
Rise of Islamist politics: Under President Ben Ali, Islamists were arrested and political parties
banned. Now, however, the country is experiencing a religious revival.
Tunisians chose the moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, to lead their
first democratically elected government after the revolution.
Ennahda's leadership has promised to protect Tunisia's Jewish community
but many grassroots supporters are hostile to the Jews. The country's
growing ultra-conservative Salafist movement are thought to number
10,000. Eyewitnesses say the group has been chanting anti-Jewish slogans
at protests in Tunis, the Tunisian capital.
Salafists have a strict interpretation of the Koran and believe in
creating an Islamic state governed by sharia law. Thousands of Salafists
who had been imprisoned by Ben Ali were released after the revolution.
Many in the Jewish community quietly admit that they felt safer under
Ben Ali. "Now we live in fear of the Salafists," one woman told DW.
For the moment, much of the anti-Semitism has remained rhetoric. But the
potential for violence remains very real. Tunis' central synagogue on
Liberty Avenue is surrounded by barbed wire and protected by armed
soldiers. Built in the 1930s, the synagogue stands as a symbol of the
community's confidence. Today, only a shadow of that thriving community
A tiny community remains: In a hall backing onto the synagogue, a gathering of Jews celebrate a
rare occasion: a bar mitzvah. The celebration marks the coming of age of
a Jewish boy. Tunisian Jews have travelled from France and the Tunisian
island of Djerba, home to the country's largest Jewish community, to
take part in what has now become a rare celebration in the capital.
There are only a small number of young Jews among the guests. Even their
parents' generation is scarce. The Jewish community is ageing.
Roland Sa'adon is the cantor, or singer of prayers, at a synagogue in La
Goulette, a seaside suburb of Tunis. He has spent all his life in
Tunisia and wants to remain in the country of his birth. Like many Jews
here, his children live abroad, and soon he will be forced to leave
Tunisia to be with his family.
Since the revolution, Sa'adon has come to believe that the future of the
Jewish community is at risk.
"The Islamists have taken over the
revolution, a revolution that was led by young people," he told DW. "If
the Salafists win support then it will be difficult - not just for us,
but for many Muslims as well. I don't think most Tunisians are
extremists, but if they are and that's what they choose, then there will
be no place for us in Tunisia."
One of the few younger guests at the bar mitzvah, Isaac Hayoun, says
that while he feels safe in Tunisia, he too will leave. “I am
practically the only young practising Jewish teenager in the capital,"
he told DW. "After high school I will move to France."
He adds, that if he wants to marry a Jewish woman, he is very unlikely
to find one in Tunisia. "It's a shame because it's a beautiful country,
but ours is a community that lives in the past.”
Jews have been gradually leaving the country since its independence in
1956. Many moved to France and Israel. Some left for financial reasons;
there were more opportunities abroad. Others left after the rise in
anti-Semitism that followed Israel's conflicts with the Arab world.
Remembering Jewish history: Habib Kazdaghli is a professor of contemporary history at the University
of Tunis who specializes in Jewish history. It is important that all
Tunisians learn about the country's Jewish community, he says.
"Our country lost part of itself. We must now teach students about our
past. I now have many students who are not Jews," he explains. "It is
not a Jewish past, it is a Tunisian past."
Seeking to preserve that past, a new museum and website called Dar El
Dhekra (meaning "House of Memory") has been founded. It's dedicated
solely to Jewish history and culture in Tunisia. For the moment at
least, this tiny community appears to be hanging on to see what
post-revolution Tunisia has in store for them.
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