Israel's aid package to Jews fleeing Tunisian turmoil

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 31, 2011

The Israeli cabinet authorised on Sunday a special aid deal for Jewish families planning to emigrate from Tunisia to Israel following the revolution there three months ago.

So far, 25 families have applied for Israeli citizenship and more are expected to do so over the next few weeks.

The government approved a 33,000-shekel payment (£6,000) for each family, to be paid in instalments over the first two years of their life in Israel, in addition to the standard package for which all new immigrants are eligible. The government also announced it will provide them with mortgage assistance.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: "We are aware of the distress of Tunisian Jews and have decided to enlarge their absorption package to allow them to come here."

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry responded angrily to Israel's offer, calling it "an attempt to tarnish the post-revolutionary image of Tunisia".

The Jews of Tunisia were a protected minority group under the previous regime but, in recent weeks, there have been reports of vandalism directed at the community. In addition, the financial crisis that followed the revolution is forcing many of them to look elsewhere for jobs and economic security.

The community is estimated to number at around 2,000, although an exact number is difficult to obtain due to the fact that many Tunisian Jews also own homes in France and Israel. The majority live on the island of Djerba and there is a community of a few hundred in Tunis.

Aside from Tunisia, the only sizable Jewish communities left in Muslim countries are the 25,000 Jews of Iran and 5,000 in Morocco.

While the Jews of Morocco are protected by King Mohammed VI, Iranian Jews live in fear of the fundamentalist regime. While technically allowed to emigrate, most of them have chosen to remain as currency laws forbid them from liquidating their assets. Jewish organisations have tried to encourage them to leave with financial aid packages but have so far failed to induce more than a few hundred a year to emigrate. Around 300 Jews remain in Yemen, though many are threatened by Al-Qaida-inspired groups and are seeking to emigrate to the US or Israel.

Last updated: 11:05am, March 31 2011