Tunisia's government on Monday condemned an effort by Israeli officials to entice Tunisian Jews to emigrate to Israel over concerns about possible economic hardship in the North African country.
The "ill-disposed" call from Israeli officials amounted to meddling in Tunisia's domestic affairs, an effort to sow suspicion, and "an attempt by Israel to tarnish the post-revolutionary image of Tunisia," wrote the Foreign Ministry in a statement.
Tunisia's tourism industry has suffered after a popular uprising drove President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee in January. Roughly two-thirds of Tunisia's estimated 1,500 Jews live on the Mediterranean island of Djerba, a popular vacation getaway for sun-minded Europeans. Djerba's historic Ghriba synagogue was the target of a deadly terror attack in 2002 that left 21 people dead, including 14 German tourists, in the only major attack in Tunisia by Islamist extremists.
The ministry statement, relayed by official news agency TAP, came a day after Israel's Cabinet said Prime Benjamin Netanyahu said Tunisian Jews were suffering "real distress" and pledged extra aid to help them immigrate.
The Israeli government, in a statement, cited the economic situation and "the worsening of the Tunisian authorities' and society's attitude toward the Jewish community." It did not elaborate.
On the sidelines of one of many street demonstrations across Tunisia between December and February, several Muslim fundamentalists last month shouted anti-Semitic remarks near Tunis' main synagogue. The government and a top Muslim political group both sharply condemned that incident.
Israel has long given benefits to Jewish immigrants like rent and mortgage support, free college tuition and tax breaks. The plan announced Sunday would give 15,000-18,000 shekels ($4,250-$5,100) to families for the first two years after they emigrate from Tunisia on top of existing benefits, the Israeli government said. About 25 families are to take part in an initial phase, it said.