Tunisia: Criticism against appointment of Jewish minister

Opponents call for dismissal of new Tunisian Jewish tourism minister who is considered a supporter of Israel.

Elad Benari,

Tunis
Tunis
iStock

The appointment of a Jewish businessman, Rene Trabelsi, as Tunisia’s tourism minister is causing a firestorm in the country, Hadashot TV reported on Sunday.

The Tunisian parliament last week approved Trabelsi’s appointment as part of a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

Trabelsi, in becoming minister of tourism in the Muslim Arab country, became only the third member of the small minority of 2,000 Jews to enter a cabinet since Tunisia's independence in 1956.

Trabelsi is considered pro-Israel. Over the past few years he has visited Israel several times and even believes that Tunisia should maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.

This fact, according to Hadashot TV, has resulted in many demanding his dismissal.

"The appointment of Tunisian Jew Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism is one of the main issues that sparked controversy and debate among public opinion," said Ziad al-Hani, an expert on Tunisian politics who resides in Tunis who was quoted in the report.

"Many claim that he is unable to head the ministry because of conflicts of interest. He was the owner of tourism agencies and airlines. This contradicts his role as minister. He is also accused of supporting normalization with Israel. He makes repeated visits to Israel and brings from there Tunisian Jews to visit the synagogue in Ghriba,” he added.

Mohamed Abu, who heads the Tunisian Democratic Movement, was quoted in the report as saying that there is no connection between the religion of the new minister and the opposition to his appointment.

"It has nothing to do with the fact that he is Jewish," he said. "The problem is that he supports relations with Israel, that he visited Israel, that he thinks full relations are the right thing for economic reasons – it has no connection to politics, he does not hide it, but it does not matter at the moment - he has been approved and there is nothing that can be done now."

Tunisia’s government has been showcasing its Jewish heritage sites, including Djerba, whose ancient synagogue was on Tunis’ list last year for locales put forth for recognition as world heritage sites by the United Nations.

At the same time, the country does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

In 2014, Tunisia's tourism minister faced criticism from parliamentarians over a trip to Israel she took in 2006 to take part in a UN training program for Palestinian Arab youths.

Last year, Tunisia banned the film "Wonder Woman" which stars Israeli actress Gal Gadot, because Gadot had defended Israel's counterterorism Operation Protective Edge on Facebook.

This year, a Tunisian legislator ripped up an Israeli flag during a parliament session to push his demands for a law criminalizing relations with Israel.

On the flip side, the head of the Liberal Tunisian Party has opined that his country should normalize ties with Israel, saying that doing so was in its best interest.


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