Tunisia’s President Calls on Jews to Return

December 19, 2011  

Tunisia’s newly elected president on Monday called the country’s Jewish population to return to his country, The Associated Press reported.

During a meeting with the country’s Grand Rabbi Haim Bittan, President Moncef Marzouki said that Tunisia’s Jews are full-fledged citizens and those who had left the country were welcome to return.

Today, Tunisia has a Jewish population of only 1,500, but in the 1960s there were 100,000 Jews in the country. Most left following the 1967 Six Day War, but the emigration to Israel started in the 1050’s.

Most Tunisian Jews now live on the resort island of Djerba, near the country’s border with Libya, once called the Island of Cohanim because so many Jewish families who could trace their lineage to Moses’ brother Aaron, the first High Priest lived there. A 2000 year old synagogue, the El Ghriba, is one of the oldest in the world, and located on the island.

Marzouki’s remarks come in response to a call by Cabinet Minster and Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom for Tunisian Jews to move to Israel.

Shalom, who is of Tunisian origin and who made an official visit to the country in 2005, recently said that Jews in Tunisia should “settle in Israel as soon as possible.”

Shalom’s call was rejected by Muslim leaders in Tunisia. The Islamist Ennahda party, which recently won the country’s first post-Arab Spring election, said that “Tunisia remains, today and tomorrow, a democratic state that respects its citizens and looks after them regardless of their religion…. Members of the Jewish community in Tunisia are citizens enjoying all their rights and responsibilities.”

The Islamic party said Shalom’s remarks were “irresponsible” and “irrational,” and it criticized the timing of his comments.

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