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Tunisian Chief Rabbi discusses the revolution, the democratic transition, Al-Nahda and the Troika

February 5, 2014 at 2:12 am

The Al Chahed approached Tunisia’s Jewish spiritual leader to benefit from the openness provided by the Arab Spring which allowed the media, researchers, intellectuals and ordinary citizens to know more closely the country’s cultural and intellectual figures. Al Chahed met Tunisian Chief Rabbi Haim Beitan.

Q: How many Jews do you believe live in Tunisia?
There are nearly two thousand Tunisian Jews; most of them live in the south -east of Tunisia in Jerba and Zarzis. The rest live in Tunis, La Goulette, Al Masra, Nabeul, Sousse, Monastir, Sfax and Mahdia.

Q: Are there differences between Tunisian Jewish and Muslim citizens?
There are no differences between Tunisian Jewish and Muslim citizens apart from religious rituals. We share the same Tunisian cultural characteristics in dress, language and food; with respect to all religious commandments.

Q: What is your assessment of the Jews status before and after the revolution?
Tunisian Jews like their fellow Muslims experienced the revolution and its economic consequences. We are confident the future will be better and thank God for everything and ask Him to preserve Tunisia.

Q: Did you witness any attacks against Jewish citizens?
Not at all; there was not any aggression directed against the Jews after the Tunisian revolution. In Zarzis; a Jewish boy was kidnapped but the attempt failed thanks to the efforts of the Tunisian security forces. The crime aimed at obtaining money and had nothing to do with religion. There were similar crimes in Tunisia such as the kidnap of Montaser but the attempts failed and the perpetrators were caught. Similar crimes take place in places like France, for example and end with a tragedy such as the case of Ilan Halimi who was kidnapped then murdered because the perpetrators did not get the ransom. Crime is unacceptable in all religions and just like terrorism does not distinguish between their victims.

Q: Do Tunisian Jews face obstacles in terms of public life or worship?
We do not face problems or obstacles in public life or when we exercise our religion.

Q: What is your assessment of the economic situation in Tunisia?
The economic situation is difficult without doubt. The global crisis impacted our economy which weakened after the revolution like the economy of any country that experiences political transitions. We should encourage domestic and foreign investors’ confidence and promote security.

Q: How did you live the Tunisian revolution and what is your vision for Tunisia future?
I lived the Tunisian revolution like all Tunisians, personally I was in Djerba, and it was quiet in fact. For the future of Tunisia, I am optimistic that Tunisians of all religious affiliations will preserve Tunisia and its future.

Q: What is your evaluation of the political situation in the country and what do you think of the Troika?
We hope the political situation will stabilize.

Q: How do you evaluate the Troika performance in terms of religious and cultural freedoms and what are your concerns?
he troika has preserved the religious and cultural freedoms in the country. I’m talking here about the Jewish religious minority. All rituals pass safely. Various Ministries including the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Culture contacted us to learn about our concerns and to help us to solve them. The Minister of Culture has met with a delegation from the Jewish Society in Tunisia and expressed the Ministry’s will to preserve the Jewish sites in Tunisia as part of Tunisia’s cultural heritage.

Q: What do you think about the Arab-Israeli conflict?
I hope we can find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict so the cousins would end their conflict.

Q: Were you concerned over Al-Nahda party with its Islamic orientation win in the last election?
Not at all. Al-Nahda leaders are open-minded and not a source of concern; many Jews voted for them.

Q: Do you believe Tunisia has made it possible for people to coexist based on citizenship and religious doctrine that encourages diversity rather than tension?
In Tunisia people coexist despite their different religious affiliations. I hope that this is maintained and coexistence evolves for the better.

Q: What are the most important elements of success of democratic transition?
To respect the will of the people.

Q: Do you think that Tunisia can set an example of democratic experience in the region?
Tunisia has been a pioneer in many areas. I hope we will become the first democratic State in the region.