Tunisian Jews consider leaving as violence spreads

Some members of Tunisia’s Jewish community are thinking of travelling to France, while others are considering immigrating to Israel; 20 Israeli tourists return home safely, Gili Cohen reports in Haaretz:

Dozens of Jews in Tunisia are considering leaving the country, given the widespread violence that has erupted across the North African nation after its president fled last Friday.

Meanwhile, the 20 Israeli tourists visiting Tunisia at the time the disturbances broke out returned to Israel on Sunday night. Their vacation to the mountains of the Muslim state turned into a flight from a national uprising.

Given the current state of affairs, some members of Tunisia’s Jewish community are thinking about traveling to France for some time, while others are considering immigrating to Israel.

“We see what they are showing on television. Every once in a while they stop some cars and search them, they arrest some people and there are some people left dead by the cars,” said Daniel Cohen, a resident of Tunis.

Chai (Hamus ) Mazuz, a resident of the island of Djerba, says the situation has improved now that the army and the police have brought the rioting under control.

“Now there is a little shooting, but with the help of God everything will be fine. Today there were no incidents of arson in our area, and luckily the security around the Jewish community is very strict,” Mazuz said.

“I called my Muslim friend and they are also afraid of the shootings being carried out by [ousted dictator Zine al-Abidine] Ben Ali’s people and the riots,” he added.

“If the situation continues as it is now, we will definitely have to leave or immigrate to Israel,” Daniel said. “Nothing is certain in Tunisia today. The country is on the verge of crisis – [it has] no security, no food, no work.”

The group of 20 Israeli tourists that had been visiting Tunisia was apparently stopped on the way to Djerba, after breaking curfew. Menachem Abadi, the group’s tour guide, said they feared for their lives.

“The policemen themselves looked like the phalanges [Lebanese militia]. They held their loaded guns without safeties on, and held them over their heads with just one hand. I was afraid they might misfire in our direction,” Abadi said.

“They turned out to have been more frightened by us, as we were in six jeeps,” he added. “We followed the news and saw huge demonstrations,” says Moshe Ilan, who was part of the group of tourists. “We saw tires burning on the sides of the road… We also heard the country’s airspace had been closed and we got nervous.”

Yoram Shomron, another member of the group, said, “I was sensitive to the fact that we were Jews, but everything the police did was to protect us. They did not do anything because we were Israelis, but simply to protect us.”

Following a four-hour wait in their vehicles, they convinced the police to let them continue on their way. However, the tour guide was concerned about the local security forces and sought an immediate return to Israel.

“The combination of us being tourists, Jews and carrying money, and the possibility that we would be robbed, led us to want to leave the country as quickly as possible,” Abadi said.

The group departed via Djerba-Zarzis International Airport to Frankfurt, and then to Istanbul, and from there to Israel.

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  • There is no evidence that Tunisian Jews are thinking of leaving. Some of them were interviewed by phone on Sunday night and they said they were doing like their Muslim neighbours, weathering the storm. They are encouraged to leave at least temporarily by Jewish organizations abroad, but most, if not all have no intention of heeding that csll.

    They are not particularly propsperous as a whole. It is a fact that there are practically no Jewish young adults in Tunisia, they all had to go abroad to find a job or study. They're affected just as much as others by the economic situation.

    The Israeli tourists who returned to Israel were in fact "pilgims" of Tunisian Jewish origin who went there for the annual event of "Se'udat Yithro" (Yithro's Meal) which is particular to Tunisian Jews (I don't know of any other Jewish group who commemorates Se'udat Yithro on Tu Bishvat.) Yithro was, as everyone knows, Moses' father-in-law.

  • Hello Julia
    The Jews are not yet leaving, but thinking of doing so.
    If they do, it will be because they fear a breakdown of law and order. They prospered under Ben Ali because he 'protected'them.
    Many Jews did make money under the Shah as you say, and obviously it was a key consideration – but one of the main reasons why many left after 1979 was that they were scapegoated as Zionist spies and several were executed, including a wealthy businessman man called Habib Elghanian.

  • Just asking, but are the Tunisian Jews leaving because they fear violence or the anarchy, or are they leaving due to political/economic reasons, like the Ben Ali regime was friendly to them and they fear that whatever new government is in power may not be as friendly to them? I ask because I knew a lot of Iranian Jews when I lived in Los Angeles who left Iran after the revolution NOT because of oppression but because the Shah had granted them lots of privilege, and when the Shah left their wealth went with him.


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