Tunisian President and Chief Rabbi Bitan (Source: Rabbi Mendy Chitrik)

The murder of Aviel, an Israeli citizen, and Benjamin Haddad in the terrorist attack on the ancient synagogue in Tunisia in during Lag B'Omer brought to the surface the tensions between the local Tunisian authorities and the Jewish community. 

The Lag B'Omer celebration at the El-Ghriba Synagogue has been held for hundreds of years and hosts Jews from all over the world. The synagogue has been the target of terrorist attacks in the past as well: on Simchat Torah of 1985, one of the police officers appointed to secure the celebrations opened fire and killed three of the visitors, and in 2002 a truck bomb exploded near the synagogue; in an attack carried out by Al-Qaeda, which killed 21 people.

This time the Ministry of the Interior in Tunisia continued to brush off the inherent hatred of Jews by some within their country by stating that the shooting resulted from a criminal dispute between two security personnel, one of whom grabbed the other's weapon and opened fire. He also managed to kill two security guards before he was eliminated. But the small Jewish community left in Tunisia does not accept this narrative. "If an armed man opens fire in a synagogue on such a day of Jewish revelry, there is no doubt that his intention was a nationalist attack against Jews," said Sara to Israeli journalists from “Makor Rishon”, who preferred not to be interviewed by her real name due to fears that the authorities would harm her.

"If he wanted to harm the security guards, he could have done it anywhere else on the Island of Djerba. The government is trying to hide what happened. Even the president, who sent condolences to the families, avoided mentioning that they were Jews." 

The political situation of Tunisia under the rule of President Kais Saied is unstable, to say the least. Only 30 percent of voters participated in the referendum on the new constitution written by the president after he staged a coup d'état and dissolved the parliament. The pioneer country of the Arab Spring, which initially seemed to emerge from the chaos in a better condition than its neighbors Libya, Algeria, Egypt, and Syria, is in an acute political and economic crisis. Tourism is an essential resource for the country's income, so the authorities in Tunisia are trying to silence the reports about the attack in Djerba, a magnet for foreign tourism.

Meanwhile, President Saied invited Tunisia's chief rabbi to his Palace, Rabbi Haim Bitan, to try and smooth things over amid the tensions and anger within the Jewish community.

The Jewish community in Tunisia is considered one of the oldest in the world, and it includes about 1,300 Jews, most of them concentrated in the Island of Djerba. On the other hand, in Tunis, the capital, there are only a few hundred Jews left due to antisemitism which flared up with the creation of the Jewish state.

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