Why Tunisian Jews Can’t Wait To Vote in an Arab Election

December 16, 2014 - fall Denim

By Yael Even Or

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Jaco Halfon spent a final week of Nov glued to his mechanism during home in L.A. Presidential choosing formula were entrance in from his homeland of Tunisia. Halfon, a Tunisian citizen, wanted to make certain that he was present and that readers of his renouned Jewish website Harissa got a applicable commentaries.

Tunisian adults voted in a giveaway and approach presidential choosing for a initial time on Nov 23. It had been 3 years given a Jasmin series that overthrew ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Following an halt supervision and October’s parliamentary elections, it was time to for Tunisian adults to opinion on who would lead a new democracy.


Among a 11 million adults vital in Tunisia, there is still a small Jewish community; it has shrunk from some-more than 100,000 in 1948 to about 1,800 Jews today, mostly in Tunis and in a southeastern island of Djerba. Most Tunisian Jews have emigrated to Israel and France over a years, while a few thousand have changed to North America.

The new Tunisian choosing law determines that Tunisian adults abroad are authorised to vote. Halfon motionless not to vote, even yet he is entitled to. “I feel a bit [far] divided from over there,” he said. “We do not intend to go behind there so we consider it is a Tunisian emanate and it’s for a people who live there to decide.”

Leaving a preference to Tunisia’s residents doesn’t meant that Halfon doesn’t have clever opinions about a elections. Out of a 25 candidates, a dual who emerged as a heading possibilities were Beji Caid Essebsi and Moncef Marzouki. If Halfon were to vote, he would opinion though perplexity for Essebsi — or as he put it, “for democracy.”

“Beji Essebsi, he’s a democrat. He’s a successor of a French colonization magnanimous Tunisia,” Halfon said. He combined that his organisation within a Jewish village had always identified with Arab Tunisians who grew adult underneath French colonialism and a aftermath. Explaining since so many Tunisians are captivated to his French-language website, he said, “These people are unequivocally tighten to us.”

Essebsi, who temporarily served as a primary apportion in 2011, is authority of a Nidaa Tounes, a celebration that represents a physical coalition. He won a many votes (39.4%), though given he didn’t win an comprehensive majority, Tunisian adults will go to a second turn of voting on Dec 21.

Running opposite Essebsi is Moncef Marzouki, who won 33.4%. He now serves as a halt boss of Tunisia and he’s a claimant of a Congress for a Republic Party. Marzouki has a story of hostile a aged regime, for that he served time in Tunisian jail in 1994.

But for Halfon — who, like many others, left Tunis when things became harder for a Jewish village following a 1967 fight — Marzouki is not an choice since of his tie with a assuage Islamist Ennahda party. “He’s from a left, that’s true, though he became boss since of Ennahda,” Halfon said, referring to a partnership between former statute celebration Ennahda and Marzouki during a halt government.

The Islamist tie raises a aged ghost of Muslim-Jewish family in Tunisia.

“There were no pogroms there,” pronounced Paul Guez, who left Tunisia in 1964 and founded a denim sovereignty in a U.S. “You can’t call them riots, it was never unequivocally bad.” Although vicious of today’s Tunisia, a 70-year-old Guez recalls that assault opposite Jews was occasionally and pointless — a account that runs opposite to that of Israel’s new inhabitant day imprinting a exclusion of Jews from Arab lands. “You can't say, generally during that time, that a Tunisian Muslim is not a good guy. They’re nice, they’re unequivocally good actually.”

Guez, who frequently visits Tunisia, strongly opposes Ennahda and Marzouki, to a border that he ponders a success of a revolution. But when Ennahda won a 2011 election, it was reported that many Tunisian Jews voted for it.


“Yes, there were people who opinion for Ennahda,” pronounced Rafram Chaddad, a 38-year-old Tunisian artist now in Israel. “Marzouki is a physical personality with a traditional-religious appeal, who doesn’t tumble into a Western dichotomy of physical contra religious.”

Chaddad, who was brought to Israel from Djerba as an tot and now divides his time between Tunisia, Israel and Europe, skeleton to opinion for Marzouki. That is, if he’s means to. “We used to go opinion in a emporium in Jerusalem, [run by] a man who was a new newcomer from Tunisia. We would move dusty fish and Kinley and we would make an eventuality of it.” But now, a usually choice is to opinion with a envoy to Ramallah, that is some-more complicated.

To Chaddad, a suspicion that Jews are ostensible to opinion opposite Muslims is a one-dimensional Western view: “I privately know — as do other Jews we know — that a critical questions don’t revolve around religion, though economics.”

Robert Watson, a visiting partner highbrow during Stetson University, concluded with this assessment. “Obviously Jews would be disturbed about an Islamist celebration being in energy — theoretically,” he said. ”But a thing that is so opposite with Jewish communities in Morocco and Tunisia is that they don’t have any domestic line… besides stability. That’s a categorical emanate that they caring about: fortitude and mercantile process that is generally market-oriented.”

Watson is Jewish and has a relations who used to live in Morocco, that is what led him to investigate Jewish-Maghrebi temperament in a Diaspora. He remarkable that in 1980s and 19890s there was a bang of discourse novel created by Tunisians of Halfon’s and Guez’s generation. This strengthening of ties to a homeland can be chalked adult to a ”concern about a detriment of a traces of a Jewish existence in North Africa altogether,” Watson said.

But not all Tunisian Jewish immigrants say a clever tie to their homeland. “I unequivocally don’t caring about what is function in Tunisia,” pronounced Simone Uzan, who lives in Brentwood, California. The usually reason she is comparatively present on her homeland is since she watches French television. “For me, Tunisia now is what we hear in a news,” she says. “My heart can usually go to so many countries. we already have Israel and France in my heart. And I’m American with my body.”

What’s certain is that Jews in Tunisia attend entirely and enthusiastically in their elections. Businessman Rene Trabelsi — who, according to many reports, was offering a position of tourism apportion and incited it down — said recently that over 80% of Tunisian Jews who were authorised to opinion have registered. Reports from Tunisia after a initial turn of presidential elections reliable that notion. For example, a news by a Turkish Anadolu news group remarkable that immature Jews voted in vast numbers, even reporting that a series of immature Jewish electorate was a largest among immature Tunisian electorate command large.

“For this immature generation, since they don’t have a colonial experience, since they were innate so prolonged after a French rule… they’re some-more partial of this enlightenment of globalization as it expresses itself in a Arab world,“ Watson explained. “They consider of themselves as Tunisians initial and foremost, that is indeed a small bit opposite than how their grandparents and great-grandparents who lived in Tunisia their whole lives suspicion of themselves — as Jews first, afterwards maybe French, and afterwards Tunisian.”


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