Tunisian Jew Stabbed in Djerba

April 16, 2014  

A Jewish merchant was stabbed by a Muslim man on the Tunisian island of Djerba on Monday, hours before the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) and just one month before the annual pilgrimage to the island’s El Ghriba synagogue.

38-year-old Lasaad Tounsi caused minor injuries to Morris Bachiri, a Jewish merchant from El Hara El Kabira, according to JTA.

The attack will raise fears of anti-Semitism in the north African country, whose small and ancient Jewish community is mostly concentrated in Djerba. But the Tunisian interior ministry described the incident as “a simple assault, nothing more and nothing less,” and added that Bachiri had been discharged from hospital soon after.

Tunisian authorities have been criticized by Jewish and human rights activists for turning a blind eye to Islamist anti-Semitism, and even of harassing local Jews.

Israel recently advised its citizens not to visit Tunisia due to threats of terrorism; the country has seen a spike in Islamist extremism since the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Ben Ali was replaced by the Islamist Ennahada party, which was itself forced to resign in January after popular protests.

Tunisian jihadis have also traveled to fight abroad, featuring prominently in the Syrian civil war.

According to Djerba Salon news site, only 500 Jews took part in the pilgrimage to Djerba in 2013, compared to the thousands who used to flock to the site before the 2002 Al Qaeda bombing of the El-Ghriba synagogue which killed 21 people. This year’s turnout is not expected to be much better amid growing unrest in the region.

The Jewish community of Djerba dates back 2,500 years; Jews were such a significant part of life on the island that it was once known as “the island of the kohanim,” after the high proportion of members of the Jewish priestly caste, or kohanim, within the Jewish community there.

But Tunisia’s Jewish community has seen its numbers fall dramatically in recent decades – from an estimated 100,000 at the time of independence in 1956 to around 1,500 today – as a result of a wave of violent anti-Semitism which forced nearly one million Jews to flee Arab countries throughout the Middle East in the twentieth century.

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