Off the Tunisian Coast, an Island of Jewish-Arab Coexistence

Sept. 27 2017

Once home to over 100,000 Jews, Tunisia, unlike other North African countries, has retained a significant Jewish community, even if one much reduced in size; some 1,000 Jews live on the island of Djerba, and a few hundred more are on the mainland. Jews from Israel, France, and elsewhere still flock to the island in large numbers for the annual pilgrimage on the holiday of Lag ba’Omer. But the community remains intact thanks to a heavy military presence, and some of its historic synagogues can barely get ten men together for prayers. Cnaan Liphshiz writes:

[Djerba’s] Jewish community persists thanks to what locals—Jews and non-Jews alike—say is a special set of circumstances: the local Arabs’ relative immunity to waves of xenophobia and political agitation seen on the mainland. Pretty much all aspects of life in Djerba bear the effect of centuries of interaction among Muslims, Christians, and Jews, who have lived here since Roman times.

Whereas elsewhere in Tunisia the traditional bean stew known as tfina pkaila is considered a typically Jewish dish, here in Djerba everyone eats and makes it. The island’s best makers of the blousa—a traditional Djerban woolen robe that Muslims wear on religious holidays—are all Jewish. The Jewish tailor Makhiks Sabbag and his son Amos are widely considered the very best.

The symbol of the menorah, the Jewish traditional oil lamp, is a local icon adopted by the general population [and] featured in decorations of government buildings such as clinics and schools. And non-Jewish locals are surprisingly familiar with the Jewish calendar and customs. Muslim customs clearly have also rubbed off on Jews here: they take off their shoes before entering their synagogues the way Muslims do before entering a mosque. . . .

But in Tunisia, expressions of anti-Semitism, often featuring anti-Israel vitriol, continue to occur. . . . A recent example came when Tunisia joined several other countries in banning the film Wonder Woman, apparently because its lead character is portrayed by the Israeli film star Gal Gadot. . . . The invitation to a Tunisian festival in July of the Jewish comedian Michel Boujenah provoked protests in Tunisia. . . . Tunisia has several pending bills, introduced by Islamist and secular nationalists, proposing a blanket boycott on Israel and a ban on any Israelis entering the country.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Jewish World, Jews in Arab lands, Mizrahi Jewry, Tunisia

UN Troops in Lebanon Don’t Just Ignore Hizballah. They Protect It

Dec. 18 2018

Two weeks ago, IDF officers showed the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) the tunnels that Hizballah has dug into Israeli territory. UNIFIL, whose primary mission is to keep Iran-backed jihadist group from using southern Lebanon to attack Israel, responded with a statement that failed even to name Hizballah. Not only is UNIFIL useless at doing its job, writes Evelyn Gordon, but its very presence helps Hizballah, since countries that contribute troops are afraid to put them in harm’s way by aggravating the terrorists they’re meant to contain.

It’s no coincidence that the major contributors to UNIFIL . . . oppose listing Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. The only EU country that does blacklist the entire organization is Holland, which has exactly one soldier in UNIFIL.

The EU and its other member states blacklist only the [organization’s] military wing, not the political wing. And that’s fine with Hizballah because, as the organization itself admits, any distinction between its political and military wings is purely fictitious. Thus, so long as the political wing is legal, Hizballah can still fundraise and recruit freely in Europe.

A complete ban, however, would genuinely hurt Hizballah. According to a 2017 German intelligence report, Germany alone has [on its soil] some 950 Hizballah operatives actively fundraising and recruiting for the organization. Much of that money is raised through charitable donations, but another significant source is organized crime. An EU report published in August described “a large network of Lebanese nationals offering money-laundering services to organized crime groups in the EU and using a share of the profits to finance terrorism-related activities. . . . An EU ban on Hizballah would thus put a serious crimp in its operations.

UNIFIL, by contrast, hasn’t put the slightest crimp in them. . . . To be fair, expecting UNIFIL to stop Hizballah was never realistic. As a senior Israeli official acknowledged this week, few countries would be willing to contribute troops to a mission that actually involved fighting Hizballah. . . . [Yet] UNIFIL has no problem making accusations against Israel. [A] November report that couldn’t “substantiate” Hizballah’s [illegal] arms transfers declared that UNIFIL had recorded 550 Israeli violations of Lebanon’s airspace and demanded their “immediate cessation.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon