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Monday, January 9, 2012

Tunisia's Islamist Party Slams Anti-Semitic Chants

“At a rally in a sports complex for Haniyeh on Sunday, supporters of the banned ultraconservative Hizb al-Tahrir party called for death to Israel, but did not repeat their anti-Jewish slogans.”     One step at a time, I guess. – Mark Finkelstein,


TUNIS, Tunisia January 9, 2012 (AP)

The head of Tunisia's moderate Islamic party condemned anti-Semitic slogans chanted Monday by a handful of ultraconservative Muslims during the arrival of a top Hamas official that have alarmed the local Jewish community.

It was the latest action by a small group of ultraconservative Muslims over the past few months to have embarrassed the government in what was once one of the more secular countries in the Arab world.

Rachid Ghannouchi reiterated the policy of his Ennahda party, which heads the country's new government, that Tunisia's Jews are "full citizens with equal rights and duties."

"Ennahda condemns these slogans which do not represent Islam's spirit or teachings, and considers those who raised them as a marginal group," Ghannouchi said in a statement.

Videos circulated online showed crowd members greeting Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Gaza government, at the airport in Tunis on Thursday chanting "Kill the Jews" and "Crush the Jews." The chants came from Salafists, ultraconservative Muslims who have been making their presence felt in Tunisia recently.

"It is worse then [sic] bad, it is catastrophic for Tunisia — particularly in regard to the repercussions that these attitudes provoke abroad," Roger Bismuth, president of Tunisia's Jewish community, told The Associated Press.

He said he was received late Monday by Ghannouchi and Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who promised to resolve the situation — possibly with an address to the nation.

Perez Trabelsi, the head of the Jewish community on the island of Djerba where most live, described the slogans as "unreasonable" and said the government "could not let it pass."

After decades of being oppressed by Tunisia's secular dictators, Ennahda won elections and has been at pains to demonstrate its moderate credentials and belief in universal rights and freedoms for all Tunisians.

They have been repeatedly embarrassed by ultraconservative Islamic groups that have emerged since hard-line President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from power last year in an uprising in Tunisia that led to revolts around the Arab world.

The groups have attacked university campuses and staged sit-ins over female students not being allowed to attend classes in the conservative face veils and have demonstrated over a variety of moral issues in cities.

Ennahda was at first slow to condemn their actions, earning the criticism of leftist and liberal groups which already regard the Islamist party with suspicion.

"I think if Ennahda doesn't come up with some way of being unequivocal in its rejection of some of these ideas and tactics it really does risk damaging its credibility with some of its coalition partners, progressive voters and international donors," said Chris Alexander, an expert on Tunisia from North Carolina's Davidson College, noting the danger of the party's slow response up until now.

"I think a lot of people will see that hesitancy as a mark of their true intentions."

At a rally in a sports complex for Haniyeh on Sunday, supporters of the banned ultraconservative Hizb al-Tahrir party called for death to Israel, but did not repeat their anti-Jewish slogans.