(JTA) — The Tunisian parliament summoned its tourism minister to explain why she is allowing Israelis to enter the country with their passports for a religious festival.
Tunisia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel; the lawmakers say that allowing the religious pilgrims to use their Israeli passports is tantamount to recognizing Israel.
It would be the first time that Israelis traveling to Tunisia for the traditional procession on Lag b’Omer near the Ghriba synagogue, on the island of Djerba, would be allowed to enter the country on their passports rather than use a special visa issued by the Tunisian Embassy, The Associated Press reported .
Eighty-five lawmakers in the 217-member parliament signed a petition requiring Tourism Minister Amel Karboul to appear and defend her actions.
Tunisia’s interim prime minister, Mehdi Jomaa, on Tuesday defended the decision, which is seen as a way to boost tourism to the country.
“We must dispense with these political arguments and focus on the essential,” Jomaa said, according to AP. “All the previous governments authorized Jews from Israel to come to Tunisia for the annual pilgrimage; we just decided to do it in total transparence.”
In March, Karboul told JTA that Jews should feel comfortable visiting the country, especially for the Lag b’Omer festival on May 18.
Her remarks came after Norwegian Cruise Lines canceled stops at ports in Tunisia following the denial of entry to 20 Israeli passengers aboard its Jade ship. She said visitors from countries such as Israel who do not have a visa waiver agreement with Tunisia must arrange visas beforehand. Karboul named Egypt and Brazil as other countries where citizens must arrange visas prior to arrival.
In the case of Israel, which has not had diplomatic relations with Tunisia since 2000, Karboul said would-be visitors are faxed the requisite papers from Tunisian legations outside Israel.