(JTA) — Tunisia’s tourism minister, the country’s first Jewish official carrying a ministerial post, denied claims of “normalization” of ties with Israel and condemned Israeli tourists’ expression of support for their troops.
René Trabelsi, who was appointed last year, was reacting in an interview published Monday to a scandal that erupted this month in Tunisia following the surfacing on social networks of a video filmed by an Israeli television crew in May in which the Israeli tourists of Tunisian origins are seen singing “long live Tunisia, long live Israel” and one woman saying “God bless all of Israel’s soldiers” as others cheer.
The tourists were bound for the traditional festive procession near the El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. It takes place on or around Lag b’Omer, a break during the 49 days of semi-mourning between Passover and Shavuot, and draws hundreds of Tunisian Jews and visitors from Israel.
Following the video’s publication, an anti-Israel group staged a protest in Tunis, the capital, against the pilgrimage, urging the government to stop it and calling it normalization with Israel. Dozens attended the protests, which organizers said were also aimed at pressuring Trabelsi to resign.
Trabelsi called the message “manipulation” in the interview with the La Presse newspaper.
“There’s no normalization, as that would require bilateral agreements,” he said. “That the tourists come is no normalization. They have a right to visit even if they live in Israel.”
He added: “I firmly condemn those who celebrated the Israeli army on Tunisian soil.”