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Map of Tunisia

Walid Bennani, vice president of Ennahda’s parliamentary contingent, says his party believes that peaceful relations with the Jewish state would be possible as soon as Israel makes peace with the Palestinians.

“The constitution is not the place to legislate relations between countries,” he says. However, Ghannouchi said Sunday that there could be no normalization with Israel, according to the official TAP news agency. “Tunisians’ problem is with Zionism, not with Judaism,” he reportedly said.

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In Tunis itself, Jewish life is more developed than in most other Arab capitals. Although only 500 Jews remain in the city, it boasts a Jewish school, a yeshiva and a kosher food service – as well as the Grande Synagogue de Tunis, a 1930s art-deco masterpiece still topped with a colossal, gilded Star of David. The southern island of Djerba has more than 350 students in Jewish schools, according to Bittan.

The post-revolutionary sense of openness has yielded one major gain for Tunisia’s Jewish community: After Ben Ali stepped down, Lellouche launched Dar el-Dekra (Arabic for “House of Memory”), which he describes as the first Tunisian organization aimed at celebrating and promoting the country’s Jewish heritage.

“Ben Ali used to instrumentalize the Jewish community,” Lellouche says. “Ben Ali wanted to say to France and America that the Jews live till now in Tunisia because he wants them to live here.”

With Ben Ali gone, there’s a new opportunity to develop Jewish life in Tunisia without contributing to the public image of a widely despised autocrat, says Lellouche, who also is planning a Jewish museum.

Still, he remains wary.

“The Salafists have now chanted ‘death to the Jews’ during their marches three times,” Lellouche says. “The first two times they were talking about Zionists. But I think the third time they were talking about the Jews themselves.”

(JTA)

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