How Yehuda Zeitoun Became the Face of 20th-Century Tunisian Jewry

Aug. 30 2021

In 1903, the German photographer and adventurer Rudolf Franz Lehnert came to Tunisia, where he set about documenting local life on camera, including that of the country’s ancient Jewish community. He then marketed many of his photographs as postcards. Nati Gabbay noticed that the same person shows up on many of these souvenirs, often as a rabbi but sometimes as a goldsmith or moneychanger:

After this article was originally published in Hebrew, one of our Facebook followers, Victor Cohen, told us that this mysterious man is none other than Rabbi Yehuda Zeitoun from the city of Monastir in Tunisia. Cohen, a great-grandson of Rabbi Zeitoun, says that among his many occupations, the rabbi was also a goldsmith, merchant, mohel, and a reciter of liturgical poetry. If so, it turns out, the various photographs simply document the rabbi’s varied pursuits. Cohen notes that Zeitoun’s son, Rabbi Ḥai ben Yehuda Zeitoun, was the chief rabbi of the city of Sfax and was even awarded a medal for his work from the ruler of Tunisia.

In any case, the face of this accomplished, multitalented person became a representation of the figure of the North African Jew across large parts of the world.

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More about: North African Jewry, Photography, Tunisia

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy