JERUSALEM (JTA) — Tunisia’s government condemned an Israeli government decision to offer extra financial assistance to Tunisian Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel.
The approval of the new program amounts to interference in Tunisia’s domestic affairs and is "an attempt by Israel to tarnish the post-revolutionary image of Tunisia," Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.
Under the plan approved at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Tunisian immigrants will receive special financial assistance of more than $9,000 in addition to the usual aid provided to new immigrants.
"We know that there is real distress among the Jews of Tunisia, many of whom would like to immigrate to Israel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the meeting. "We will increase the absorption basket in order to allow them to do so.
"Israel is the state of the Jews. It worries about Jews wherever they are — those who are here and those who would like to come here."
Minister Sofa Landver said, "The Government of Israel must see to the needs of new immigrants who arrive here hastily from Tunisia, without sufficient advance preparation like other immigrants. This proposal, which was formulated along with the Jewish Agency, is designed to ease, and answer, the difficulties for the families that, given the sensitive situation, decided to come here."
About 1,500 Jews are living in Tunisia. Some 1,100 live in Djerba, with the rest in the capital city of Tunis.
Ten Tunisian Jews made aliyah to Israel with the help of the Jewish Agency in late January amid political upheaval and violence that led to the overthrow of Tunisian President Zein el-Abbadin Bin Ali.