Israel’s Libyan body defends Gerbi against criticism

David Gerbi in front of the Great Synagogue in Tripoli (Photo: Abdel Magid al-Fergany/AP)

David Gerbi’s efforts to restore a synagogue in Libya have been stymied and his safety threatened. Some diaspora leaders are now telling the Jerusalem Post that he should never have gone it alone. But Meir Kahlon says Gerbi was representing the World Organisation of Jews from Libya in Israel:

…Gerbi’s efforts, undertaken at great personal risk, were not universally welcomed.

Not only was he barred by local gunmen from returning to the site the following day but he was also admonished by several prominent members of the Libyan Jewish Diaspora who said he had acted hastily and without prior consultation.

“This is not a one-man show,” said Raphael Luzon, a Libyan Jew living in the UK who had negotiated with longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and is involved in talks with the National Transitional Council (NTC).

“You have to be part of a framework, part of an organization. I have received many calls from [Libyan Jews in] Rome because he is not talking about the community but about himself as a new messiah. We have to move very carefully.”

In Rome, a leader of the local Libyan Jewish community, the second largest after Israel, was also critical of Gerbi’s tactics.

“I personally believe that such personal initiatives, without any coordination with the Jewish community, is not in its interests,” said Elio Raccah over the phone. “We believe such talks should be done on a collective basis. The rebuilding of a synagogue by itself is an isolated concession because what we want is restitution of our rights and certainly not of a single building.”

But Meir Kahlon, the head of the Israeli-based World Organization of Libyan Jewry, rejected those arguments, saying Gerbi acted responsibly and with authority.

“I sent Gerbi,” said Kahlon. “We speak for all the Libyan Jews in Israel and many outside the country. I don’t need permission from the Libyan Jews in Italy or the UK.”

Kahlon defended Gerbi, saying he did not plan to renovate the building, only to clean it from debris so that Jews could pray there. “The problem is that everybody thinks they can do better,” he added.

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  • Yes, they sent Haddad and he was tortured for five months in Gaddafi's jail – just for taking pictures of these synagogues.
    Gerbi apparently has a bodyguard but he is still taking a huge personal risk.
    I think some of the diaspora leaders are a bit jealous of Gerbi – it's the battle of the egos.

  • I think what we're seeing here is the same feud some 15 years ago between Egyptian Jewish organizations and the Jews who remained in Egypt over what happens to community assets.
    And isn't the Israeli Libyan organization the same ones who sent Rafram Haddad to Libya? Some people never learn, do they.


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