Two elegant pilgrims at this year’s festivities, which attracted around 2,000 tourists
“Tunisia needs you!”
There was no clearer message delivered to the 1,500 – 2,000 Jewish pilgrims who attended this year’s pilgrimage to the Al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba than the speech (French) by the country’s personable minister of Tourism, Amel Karboul.
Minister of Tourism Amel Karboul gets a kiss from Perez Trabelsi, leader of the Djerba Jewish community
Mme Karboul must, along with the rest of the government, be heaving a sigh of relief that the annual Lag ba’Omer pilgrimage passed off without incident. All officials concerned pronounced the event a success. Tensions between Islamists, who accused the government of ‘normalising’ relations with Israel if they let in tourists travelling on Israeli passports, and pragmatic politicians such as Mme Karboul who appreciate the importance of Jewish tourism to the Tunisian economy, were running high in the run-up to the pilgrimage. But the pragmatists won the day.
MEMRI has a good summary of the arguments on both sides of the debate. The summary ends with extracts from an article by an Al-Hayat journalist, Ahmed Maghrabi. He makes the distinction between welcoming Israeli tourists (he does) and supporting the Zionist enterprise (he doesn’t).
The journalist Nizhar Bahloul of Business News wrote that Tunisia does not have the moral right to exclude Israeli tourists. There is no question of ‘normalisation’. Besides, it is good for business:
“Current Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, [the head of the Jewish
community in Djerba] Perez Trabelsi, and the Tunisian Hotel Federation
have [all] reminded us that the El Ghriba pilgrimage is important for
Tunisian tourism. An MP from Wafa, one of the most extremist Tunisian
parties, pretended not to understand the connection between the
Israelis’ visit and tourism. Do we need to remind him that most of the
tour operators in Europe, who fill up our hotels, belong to the Jewish
community, and that they will not tolerate discrimination against their
“Furthermore,… there is a question of principles. Tunisia does not
have the moral right to prohibit anyone from performing his religious
rites just because it controls access to this religious site. This is
both indecent and immoral. Muslims are well acquainted with the sense of
injustice [felt] whenever Israel denies Palestinians access to the
[Al-Aqsa] mosque in Jerusalem. We Tunisians should not behave like the
Zionist Israelis do in Israel. Don’t we often say that Islam is of a
religion of peace and tolerance? Then let us implement these values!”