web analytics
November 1, 2014 / 8 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
News & Views
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Tunisia’s Jews Fear Erosion By Islamists Of Country’s Moderate Tradition

Map of Tunisia

Map of Tunisia
Photo Credit: courtesy

TUNIS – More than a year after Tunisia became the first Arab country to overthrow its dictator through a popular, nonviolent uprising, two political movements are challenging Tunisia’s cosmopolitan political and social attitudes, and are threatening to reverse the country’s longstanding moderation toward Israel and Jews.

In October, the Islamist Ennahda party won 43 percent of the vote in Tunisia’s first post-uprising parliamentary elections, putting an explicitly religious party in charge of a country with a secular and republican tradition.

Although Ennahda in late March officially dropped its demand for Islamic law in the country’s new constitution, many Tunisians still fear that the party could take the country in an uncomfortably radical direction.

Party co-founder Rached Ghannouchi has publicly praised the mothers of suicide bombers and spoken about “the extinction of Israel.”

Tunisia also has a growing and increasingly vocal Salafist movement. Tunisia’s Salafists are Islamic fundamentalists inspired by Saudi Arabia’s restrictive version of political Islam who felt oppressed by the secular, republican character of the Bourguiba and Ben Ali regimes. On March 23, Salafist protesters chanted anti-Semitic slogans in downtown Tunis, provoking a tense standoff with a group of artists gathered in front of Tunisia’s national theater.

Every major political party, including Ennahda, condemned the Salafists. A week later, Salafists called for a ban on normalization with Israel in a protest in front of the National Assembly building in Tunis.

So far, Tunisia’s moderate and secular political culture has kept the Salafists on the social and political fringes while frustrating Ennahda’s ambitions for an overtly Islamic constitution. And as far as the Jews are concerned, Tunisian moderation has endured during the transitional period.

Tucked on a quiet side street blocks from the Mediterranean Sea, the last kosher restaurant in the Tunisian capital is a thriving center of Jewish tradition in a country of 10 million with nearly an entire Arab and Muslim population.

Yet Jacob Lellouche, who has owned and operated Mamie Lily since it opened 16 years ago, says his business is hardly a Jewish bubble.

Most of his customers are Muslim, and on a recent Thursday night, the restaurant’s cozy dining room is dominated by a large party of Tunisians sipping boukha – a fig-based liquor that Tunisian Jews traditionally drink on the Sabbath – while chattering in Arabic and French.

Lellouche says the guests are liberal activists who have come to the restaurant to draft a statement on freedom of speech in the aftermath of the revolution that toppled Zine Abdine Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011.

“The civil society in Tunisia sustained the Jewish community of this country,” says Lellouche, explaining that relations between Tunisia’s educated and politically engaged citizens and the country’s 1,500 Jews have always been mutually beneficial. “As long as there are Jews in the world there will be Jews in Tunisia,” he says.

Located just 80 miles off the coast of Sicily, Tunisia has been colonized by foreign powers from the Roman Empire to modern France. But unlike other countries with a long colonial history, Tunisia has historically been a place where Middle Eastern and European values and ideas have converged, reinforcing one another without causing conflict or social discord.

Educated Muslim Tunisians acknowledge that Jews are a crucial part of this history. “The Jews came to Tunis and developed commerce and trade here, and many came after they were expelled from Iberia,” says Abdel-Hamid Larguech, a history professor at Manoura University. “These were factors in how Tunisia became more cosmopolitan.” Kedya Ben Saidane, who has researched the country’s Berber community, claims Berbers living in Tunisia first began practicing Judaism nearly 3,000 years ago.

Modern Tunisia has had a history of moderation on Israel-related issues. In 1965, Habib Bourguiba, the president from 1957 until 1987, caused a brief crisis in relations between Tunisia and several other Arab governments when he outlined a plan for recognizing Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Official diplomatic contact between Israel and Tunisia, established in 1996, lasted just four years, yet Tunisia does not take as hard line a position on the Jewish state as other Arab countries.

“Tunisian Israelis come here with no problem at all,” says Rabbi Haim Bittan, the leader of the small Jewish community in Tunis, adding that travel to Israel is fairly routine for the country’s Jews. Tunisia is also one of the few Arab countries accessible to Israeli passport holders, despite the lack of official recognition. Yet since Ben Ali’s ouster, there have been hints that Tunisia’s moderation – and its moderate position toward Israel – could be eroding.

“Ennahda’s election favored the emergence of a new fundamentalist section of the society, the extremists,” Larguech says. “And the two enemies of the democratic revolution are populism and extremism.”

Ennahda confirmed moderates’ fears by proposing a constitutional ban on normalization of ties with Israel during a mock parliament held just after Ben Ali’s ouster. A year later there is almost no mainstream support for such a provision. Ennahda, which has proven responsive to the criticism from the country’s large secular-liberal wing, also now opposes the normalization ban.

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Tunisia’s Jews Fear Erosion By Islamists Of Country’s Moderate Tradition”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Yehudah Glick on the Temple Mount.
Yehuda Glick’s Condition Stabilizing, “He Was Very Lucky” (1:00 PM)
Latest News Stories
Raining in Jerusalem

Starting the 7th of Cheshvan in the Jewish calendar, Jews in Israel will start inserting the formal request for rain in the 9th blessing of the Amidah prayer.

Yehudah Glick on the Temple Mount.

Doctors are predicting minimal long-term disability to Yehudah Glick following surgery today.

Ikea Instruction

Sweden and John Kerry would make wonderful partners to get lost in the same maze.

Little Heroes

Pictured is an IDF ceremony for graduates of the “Little Heroes” foundation, which works to integrate kids with special needs in society, on October 30, 2014. The annual ceremony is in cooperation with the Logistics Corps in order to strengthen the connection between the IDF and the special needs community.

“It’s serious, there are now genuine questions being asked about whether we will be able to vote Labor next May.”

Does that mean Kerry also will stay away?

He is not in a coma and may undergo another operation today.

Israel’s anti-Netanyahu media might regret their wishes if early elections are held.

Authorities in Peru this week arrested a suspected Hezbollah terrorist who planned to murder Jews. Lebanese citizen Mohammed Hamden was in possession of explosives and other materials when he was arrested, according to the Peruvian Interior Ministry. Police found traces of TNT, detonators and other explosive devices in his apartment. Reports indicate that the suspect […]

Israel decides not to go ahead with huge military purchase from U.S., likely to provoke rumors of continuing feud.

Highlight: Exclusive Interview with Rabbi Yehuda Glick at the Foot of the Temple Mount.

Doctors reported as of 8 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT) Thursday night that there is a “very small” improvement in the condition of Yehuda Glick, gunned down by an Arab terrorists Wednesday night, but that he still is in critical condition and his life remains in danger.

Foreign Minister Lieberman may be playing “chicken.” What happens if France follows Sweden?

Conference of Jewish groups chided the Obama administration for the nasty comments made about Bibi.

More Articles from Armin Rosen
Map of Tunisia

TUNIS – More than a year after Tunisia became the first Arab country to overthrow its dictator through a popular, nonviolent uprising, two political movements are challenging Tunisia’s cosmopolitan political and social attitudes, and are threatening to reverse the country’s longstanding moderation toward Israel and Jews.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/middle-east/tunisias-jews-fear-erosion-by-islamists-of-countrys-moderate-tradition/2012/04/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: