Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom, the descendant of a Tunisian family, recently called on the Tunisian Jewish community to leave the country and emigrate to Israel. A few members of the media, including the BBC, reported on his remark, brought on by the rise of the Islamists there, but noted that the few Jews remaining in Tunisia had rejected the call.
In Tunisia, the Islamist Ennahda party won the most votes, 41.7%, in last election, following the ouster of Tunisian long time president Zine Al-Abedin Ben Ali.
According to the January 31 BBC report, Attoun Khalifa, a senior figure of the Jewish community said, "I am a Tunisian Jew. I know my country well. I am against the proposition to leave because no one here is afraid. I do not tell Shalom where to go."
Gilles Jacob Lellouche, owner of a kosher restaurant said, "I am proud of being a Tunisian Jew. Where would I go -- to Europe? Come on, I am not stupid. To Israel? I am not that stupid either."
Earlier, as the only candidate not elected in the October 23 election, Lellouche said." I want to break the taboo that someone from a minority cannot get involved in politics."
Rabbi Daniel Cohen of the Beit Mordechai Synagogue said, "The problems between Israelis and Palestinians should not be a concern to such an extent that it has caused some people to become extremist and anti-Semitic." He added," I am sure the Tunisian Government does not want this to happen, as even Ennahda can not afford to have this kind of extremism take over a section of Tunisian community."
And an unnamed Jewish jeweler said on Tunisialivenet, "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not our problem. I have grown up my whole life breaking bread with my Muslim neighbors, living freely with my Muslim friends."
For his part, Rashid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda Party said, "In our party's rules and in the country's constitution, it is important to emphasize that all our faiths and traditions are respected equally."
And last month the new President of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, asked the Tunisian Jews to return to the country.
In practice, however, the scenario is a bit different. During the recent welcomed visit of Ismail Haniyeh to Tunisia, the extremely conservative pro-Saudi Salafists chanted at the airport, "Kick the Jews -- it is our religious duty. Expel the Jews -- it is our religious duty. Kill the Jews -- it is our religious duty."
The Ennahda-backed government said in a press release that the slogans do not reflect Islam and its principles. But some reliable sources, such as Roger Bismuth, president of Tunisian Jewish community, observed that not only were the Salafists saying this, but Ennahda party supporters as well, who were also chanting, "Tuez les Juifs – Kill the Jews."
As the visit by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was an official state visit -- he met Prime Minister Hamadi Jebani and other high officials -- many analysts strongly believe that in course of time, after their power is more solidly established, Rashid Ghanouchi and his Ennahda Party will reveal their true Islamist image.
Some observers are asking, "Is it possible for a Jewish community to live under an 'Arab democracy with Muslim coloring'?"
The Jewish people inherited Tunisia more than two thousand years back, after the dispersal of the Jews from what is now Israel in about 67 CE. Even more Jews came to Tunisia during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. In 1956, at the time of independence from France, the local Jewish population numbered at least 100,000; but the new government imposed a series of anti-Jewish measures. In 1958, the Tunisian government abolished the Jewish Community Council and ordered the demolition of ancient Synagogues and cemeteries.
Since the rise of Islam in Tunisia, the Jews have been obliged to choose either conversion or submission to dhimmitude, the status of second-class citizens who, among many repressive rules, have to pay an extra "tax" [jizya] to buy "protection."
Similarly to what occurred in the World War I and World War II, there was a wide rumor in 1967 that Tunisian Jews had helped the French Army. Consequently there occurred a number of anti-Semitic acts: demonstrators stormed into the Synagogues and burned the holy Torah. Thus people gradually drove the Jews out of the land. Now, under the rule of new "Islamist-Democrats," there are fewer than 1,500 hundred Jews living in Tunisia.
It is a challenge to the only parliamentary republic, the Jewish-majority state of Israel, and the mainstream Jewish community that some of the Jewish Diaspora, especially the young generation do not care about their identity. Some neutral observers are nevertheless deeply concerned that every society can have different moods that turn on changing situations: What will happen to the Jewish Diaspora in Tunisia if, for example, Israel becomes involved in a state of war against any of its Muslim neighboring states? Tunisia is now totally under Islamic control. How much can anyone depend on Ennahda's oral commitment?
Jews were once deceived by the Germans (who are now trying to absorb some Sharia law into their country) who used the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "Work Shall Make You Free." But the world knows very well how millions of Jews were freed – from their lives.
Perhaps some of the learned people around the world will start to appreciate Silvan Shalom's beckoning.