The annual Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage to Djerba has provided the international media with more opportunity to distort the recent history of Jews in Tunisia, whose numbers are down from 100, 000 in 1948 to 1, 500 today.
The BBC Arabic service's Ahmed Maher is the latest to downplay the antisemitism whuch led to the mass Jewish exodus. The tactic is to quote the words of 'dhimmi' Jews, such as one Mr Izra, who for whatever reason feel they must defend Tunisia's record. But what is most disturbing is that the reporter acts as a mouthpiece for the Tunisian government, denying inconvenient but documented evidence that the Jewish community feels increasingly threatened by the rise of Islamists in Tunisia.
The reporter interviews a succession of 'dhimmi' Jews. 'Dhimmi' Jews have a long tradition of saying what their Arab Muslim masters want to hear.
"They (Tunisian Jews) have never complained of discrimination, oppression or racism, as reported in the media" (..) . added Mr Izra.
"All Jews in Djerba and those who left it are not rootless. Tunisia gives us all a sense of identity."
Maher quotes Perez Trabelsi, without disclosing that Mr Trabelsi has a large stake in projecting a a positive image of Tunisia in order to best serve his extensive business interests in Djerba tourism. Indeed, his son Rene was a candidate to be minister of Tourism in the current government.
The head of the Jewish community in Tunisia, Perez Trebelsi, however, questions the narrative of some Western historians that Jews were also persecuted under Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, the founder of the republic after independence from France in 1956."Bourguiba put all Tunisians on an equal footing, excluded nationalists, and annulled Sharia-compliant articles in the constitution like the ones related to polygamy and inheritance," Mr Trebelsi says.
He insists that "socialist policies, especially in the key agricultural sector, forced many Jewish businessmen to emigrate to Europe for better economic landscapes".
Mr Trabelsi's view is at odds with that expressed by Tunisian-born Jean-Pierre Allali, author of the book 'Les refugies echanges' :
Allali believes that Bourguiba pursued a strategy of deception, stringing the Jews along as long as Tunisia needed their skills, yet all the while intending to get rid of them. (...)
Bourguiba's socialism had no respect for pluralism. He no longer wanted any distinction made between Muslim and Jewish Tunisians. Kashrut and endogamy had no place, he told Charles Haddad and other shocked Jewish leaders in December 1956. Rabbinic courts were an aberration. Aid from the American Joint Distribution Committee to Tunisia's Jewish institutions should go to the entire nation, he raged.
With the 18th century Jewish cemetery requisitioned to make way for a park in central Tunis - bulldozers overturned Jewish graves before they could be exhumed - the razing of the old Jewish quarter and the dissolution of the Jewish Community Council, thousands of Jews chose exile, fleeing with half a dinar in their pockets. People were arrested for trying to smuggle out jewellery and other valuables.
The regime's socialism targeted mainly Jews. Those who remained could not run a business except in partnership with a Muslim. Import licences and official permits were handed out parsimoniously.
When Tunisia became independent there were few trained Muslim civil servants and technicians. The French went home to France and Bourguiba bought time, appointing Jews, until the Muslims were ready to take over.
In the BBC article, Trabelsi is at pains to play down the state's role in inciting anti-Jewish attacks following the Six-Day War. "Some [Tunisian] Jews came under attack but from mobs. It was individual practices really, not systematic".
Whether the government sanctioned the rioting or not was immaterial for 1967 refugee Sylvain Hayoun. He witnessed the burning of the great synagogue in Tunis. His mother ran to escape the mob. "To my disappointment, I saw some neighbors pointing out to the mob Jewish stores and cars to be burned," he recalls. "When you are a target for repression, even when not openly state-sponsored, you don’t see any peaceful future for you and your kids, you don’t have much choice than to try to leave the country."
Certainly, the state did nothing to encourage him to stay:
"When my parents made this choice in October, 1967, we couldn’t take more than one suitcase and 50 Dinars (probably equivalent to $100). Necklaces or anything in gold was confiscated at the port of departure. We closed our apartment door leaving everything in it."
The BBC article by Ahmed Maher quotes Khodir Hanyna, a native Djerba businessman, who wants to dispel the sensationalist articles on Tunisian Jewry."The way Tunisian Jews are portrayed in the media is greatly exaggerated," he insists.
Then the BBC reporter Maher pens this gobsmacking passage:
"Several media reports spoke about YouTube videos that showed radical Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews. Despite searching extensively, I did not find any of them."
How bizarre. Thirty seconds on Google is all it took to unearth this :
The video shows supporters of Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, an official guest of the Tunisian government on a three-day visit in January 2012, greeting him at Tunis airport with cries of 'Death to the Jews! It is our duty." At the time, the event sent shivers down local Jewish spines.
The reporter Maher feels it OK to mention that some Tunisian Islamists vowed support to the late al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden (the bombing of the Djerba synagogue in 2002, which claimed the lives of 21 tourists, was blamed on Al Qaeda) but he sweeps under the carpet the anti-Jewish sentiment propagated by the Islamists of the Ennahda-led government.
Clearly, the Haniyeh visit is an episode that the Tunisian government, eager to attract the tourist dinars of visiting Jewish pilgrims to Djerba, would rather erase from memory - with the connivance of the BBC.
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