Jewish community reacts to Tunisia violence

By Jennifer Lipman, January 17, 2011
Israel’s Tunisian-born deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom

Israel’s Tunisian-born deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom

The political instability in Tunisia could put the future of the country’s 2,000 year-old-Jewish community under threat.

More than 100 people are believed to have died and many more been injured in violent anti-government clashes in the North African country, which last week triggered the president of 23 years to flee to Saudi Arabia.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said that the target of the rage was the ruling party and not Tunisia’s Jewish population, which is estimated to be anywhere between 1,500 and 3,000-strong.

Before Tunisian won independence from France in 1956, the country was home to 100,000 Jews and it remains one of the largest communities in the Arab world.

Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs, said that so far there had been “no signs of rhetoric or violence of any sort or any efforts in any way to target protests or any negative acts against the Jewish community.”

But Daniel Cohen, a Jewish resident of Tunis, told Ha 'aretz newspaper that the future of the community was not certain. He said: "If the situation continues as it is now, we will definitely have to leave or immigrate to Israel.

"Nothing is certain in Tunisia today. The country is on the verge of crisis."

Israeli holidaymakers have also been evacuated from the country out of fears for their safety.

Israel’s Tunisian-born deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom, said Israel would be ready to assist to Tunisian Jews if the need arose.

He said: "We have to take everything into account and get prepared if something will happen.”

There are suggestions that the protests could have a knock-on effect around the Arab world.

The uprising was triggered by the fatal self-immolation of an unemployed Tunisian graduate last month in protest at government policies, and there have been reports of similar incidents in Egypt, Mauritania and Tunisia’s neighbour Algeria.

Last updated: 2:31pm, February 1 2011