Over the past week, Israel has been criticized for being insufficiently supportive of democratic change in Egypt. While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been careful to praise the cause of democracy while warning against the dangers of an Islamic takeover of the most populous Arab state, many Israelis have not been so diplomatic.
To understand why, it is necessary to take a little tour of the Arab world.
In the midst of Tunisia’s revolution last month, the Jewish Agency mobilized to evacuate any members of the country’s Jewish community who wished to leave. Until the end of French colonial rule in 1956, Tunisia’s Jewish community numbered 100,000 members. But like for all Jewish communities in the Arab world, the advent of Arab nationalism in the mid-20th century forced the overwhelming majority of Tunisia’s Jews to leave the country. Today, with between 1,500 and 3,000 members, Tunisia’s tiny Jewish community is among the largest in the Arab world.
So far, six families have left for Israel. Many more may follow. Two weeks ago, Daniel Cohen from Tunis’s Jewish community told Haaretz, “If the situation continues as it is now, we will definitely have to leave or immigrate to Israel.”
Since then, Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist party Ennahda, has returned to Tunisia after 22 years living in exile in London. He was sentenced to life in prison in absentia on terrorism charges by the regime of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Then on Monday night, unidentified assailants set fire to a synagogue in the town of Ghabes and burned the Torah scrolls. In an interview with AFP, Trabelsi Perez, president of the Ghriba synagogue, said the crime was made all the more shocking by the fact that it occurred as police were stationed close by.
The day after the attack, Roger Bismuth, president of Tunisia’s Jewish community, disputed the view that the scorching of Torah scrolls had anything to do with anti-Semitism. The man responsible for representing Tunisia’s Jewish community before the evolving new regime told The Jerusalem Post that the attack was the fault of the Jews themselves, “because they left [the synagogue] open... This is not an attack on the Jewish community.”
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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