A Jew in Tunis needs to tread on eggshells, and Rabbi Benjamin Hattab, in London to collect funds for a school in memory of his son Yoav - killed in the Hyper Casher attack in Paris - is nothing if not a diplomat. But did he really need to say, 'I am an Arab'? Report in Jewish News (with thanks: Michelle):
In London to honour his son at a
communal dinner hosted by the Centre for Jewish Life, Rabbi Hattab is
speaking to the British media for the first time since the Paris
Having appeared already on French and
Tunisian television, Hattab has been a powerful ambassador for
reconciliation and interfaith dialogue.
But when it comes to the spectre of
rising European anti-Semitism, what we believe and what we want to
believe can be two very different things.
Did his son feel safe in Paris? “Yes, he felt at ease in France. He never feared that something like [the attack] could happen.”
No provocations at all? No warning
signs? “The truth is that when he first arrived [in France] he told me:
‘Dad, there’s ‘death to the Jews’ written on walls.’ Then he said: ‘Dad,
when I walk in the street wearing my kippah, Arabs sometimes hit me.’
Then, he paid for his Judaism with his life.”
In 2014, some 7,000 of France’s 600,000
Jews made aliyah. That’s twice as many as the previous year. Hattab
sympathises with their motives, saying: “I feel safer in Tunisia than I
do in France, more than I do in England.”
The tragic irony of this latest attack
on Paris’ Jews is not lost on him. Having left an Islamic country for
the land of liberté, egalité and fraternité, his son met his end at the
hands of a French-born Islamist.
For Hattab, it is the cultural and
religious exclusion felt by Arabs living in the West that is chiefly to
blame for the fractious ideological landscape that serves as fertile
ground for home-grown jihadists. Radicalised Arabs aren’t ‘chez eux’, at
home in the West, whereas, he says, in Tunisia “we live together, we
have a shared history. There are no problems between Jews and Arabs. I
myself am an Arab”.
There are an estimated 2,000 Jews
living in Tunisia today – that’s just two percent of the 100,000 strong
community at the outbreak of the Second World War.
As Chief Rabbi of a diminished Jewish
population in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, Hattab is as skilled a
diplomat as he is a scholar. His measured delivery and broken voice
betray a still-raw grief. Yet his message for the Tunisian government
that “protects our synagogue, our school” is one of gratitude.
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