Tunisian Jewish leader says no to aliyah

Some three months after the Islamist party’s triumph in the Tunisian parliamentary elections, prominent figures in the country’s Jewish community told the BBC they have no intention of making aliyah.

“Me, I’m a Tunisian Jew,” said Atun Khalifa, a senior figure in the community. “I know my country well and I’m against the proposition to leave because no-one here is afraid. I don’t tell him (Shalom) where to go!”

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Khalifa was referring to Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, who said that for their own safety all of Tunisia’s remaining Jews should move to Israel.

The latest vote constituted the first free elections in Tunisia since the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He was the first Arab leader to be deposed in a country that sparked the wave of anti-regime protests known as the Arab Spring. The phenomenal success of the Ennahda party raised concerns that it could impose an Islamist code such as the one practiced in countries like Iran.

Following the elections, Shalom called on Tunisian Jews to immigrate to Israel, yet it appears the local Jewish community is less than keen to make the transition.

‘Israel? I’m not that stupid’
Jacob LeLouche, who ran as an independent liberal candidate in October’s historic elections, said: “Where would I go – to Europe? Come on, I’m not stupid. To Israel? I’m not that stupid either.”

Lelouche, who runs the only kosher restaurant in Tunisia, added: “It’s important that a Jewish man can stand in elections here, but it’s not a problem – nobody really cares.”

Most of Tunisia’s 1,500-member Jewish community live on the southern holiday island of Djerba, home to the famous El Ghriba synagogue, which has been in continuous use since the first century. Once numbering more than 100,000, the majority of Tunisian Jews left the country after the Six Day War.


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