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Tunisia: Public and official rejection of normalisation with Israel

February 8, 2014 at 2:46 pm

The Tunisian public was surprised to hear the news that its national Taekwondo team would participate in a match against the Israeli national team, which is considered a form of normalisation with Israel. This participation has caused the issue of normalisation with Israel to resurface in Tunisia.

Once the news of the match spread, the Tunisian Ministry of Youth and Sports immediately expressed its condemnation of the national Tunisian Taekwondo team’s participation in the international championship with Israel and described the participation as “a mockery.”

In a statement aired by the official Tunisian radio station on Sunday, the Tunisian ministry said that it opened an immediate investigation of the “participation of members of the national Taekwondo team in an international championship in Belgium who are competing against Israel without prior discussion with the Supervising Authority.”

It also explained in its statement that this investigation “aims to find out reasons for this participation” described as a “mockery.”

The Tunisian Taekwondo Federation called for “immediate discontinuation of the activities of those causing this mockery – including the technical and administrative members accompanying the Tunisian delegation – until the investigation is over and accountability is established.”

The Tunisian Taekwondo team has participated in the Belgian Open with Israel in the past, where some members of the Tunisian team competed against Israelis, which angered former coach of the Tunisian national Taekwondo team, Murad Al-Souli, who spoke out against what he considered “normalisation with Israel.”

Al-Souli expressed his anger over this participation, pointing out that the Tunisian team has never participated in any match with Israel. He held the Tunisian Taekwondo Federation responsible for this, as well as the head of the Tunisian delegation participating in this championship.

In addition to this, activists on social media networks launched a campaign against the temporary Tunisian government, accusing it of normalisation with Israel. This explains the statement mentioned earlier by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, an effort to tone down this anger.

The issue of normalisation with Israel still causes controversy in Tunisia since the Islamic El-Nahda Movement, currently heading the governing coalition, refused to explicitly make normalisation with Israel a crime in the new Tunisian constitution.

Former Tunisian Foreign Minister, Rafik Abdul Salam, an official in the El-Nahda movement, had announced earlier that he does not support the idea of allocating an article in the new Tunisian constitution that incriminates normalisation with Israel, and stressed that his country’s government will not have relations with Israel.

Tunisia does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel. However, in 1996 they established official facilities called interests sections in each other’s countries. The Tunisian Authorities closed down these facilities in October 2000 in protest against Israel’s suppression of the Palestinian Intifada.