Update: According to this report of 19 January, Tunisian Jewish community leader Roger Bismuth has left the country. Khlifa Atoun, vice president of the Jewish community, has also left the country, leaving the old peoples’ home at La Goulette in disarray: he is the only person entitled to sign off current expenses. It is up to Haïm Bittan, the chief rabbi of Tunisia, to dispense comfort and reassurance to his flock. Would the last man out please turn out the lights?
Ex-president of Tunisia al-Abedine Ben Ali, once hailed as the ‘protector’ of the Jewish community, was a crook, the leader of the Jewish community in Tunisia, Roger Bismuth, now says. This change of tone comes as Jewish organisations express their increasing concern about the fate of Tunisia’s remaining 1,500 Jews. JTA reports:
WASHINGTON (JTA) — The violence roiling Tunisia hasn’t put the country’s 1,500 or so Jews in serious jeopardy, but Jewish organizations are increasingly concerned about their fate as massive anti-government protests continue.
No Jews have been targeted by the protesters, according to Roger Bismuth, a Jewish businessman and member of Tunisia’s Chamber of Deputies.
President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia over the weekend following violent protests by mostly unemployed young men venting their anger at Ben Ali and his wealthy cronies.
On Tuesday, the North African country’s interim prime minister and president, Mohamed Ghannouchi and Fouad Mebazaa, both resigned from what had been the country’s ruling party.
“The community is fine,” Bismuth told JTA by phone from Tunis. “Up until now we’ve had no problems. This is not really a matter of religion; it’s a popular revolution. The Jewish community is very well taken care of.”
Asked about Ben Ali, often described by the local Jewish community as a protector of Tunisia’s Jews, Bismuth sounded a new tone.
“He was behaving like a crook,” Bismuth said. “He and his family stole property from people and the state, and they destroyed everything they could put their hands on.”
Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, described the Tunisian government of Ben Ali as a “corrupt and kleptocratic dictatorship.”
About 1,000 Jews, the majority of Tunisia’s Jewish community, live on the island of Djerba, where Jews have maintained a historical presence for more than 2,000 years. Another 400 Jews live in Tunis, the capital, with much smaller communities in Zarzis, Sfax and Sousse.