A Friday sermon by Tunisian Sheikh Ahmad Al-Suhayli aired live on Hannibal TV has caused strong protest in the Tunisian Jewish community. In his sermon, Sheikh Al-Suhayli claimed that a group of Jews were transformed into apes; praised the bus bombing in Tel Aviv during Operation Pillar of Defense, and made genocidal calls against the Jewish people, asserting, “Oh Lord, do not leave a single one of them on Earth, for if you do, they will lead your servants astray, and they will beget none but sinners and infidels. Allah, make the wombs of their women barren, and dry up the loins of their men.”

The Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities has responded by filing a lawsuit against Sheikh Ahmad Suhayli for hate speech. Tunisian law asserts that anyone using the media to “incite hatred between races, religions and people” can be jailed for up to three years. According to association head Yamina Thabit, the sermon was a “natural result of the Tunisian government’s lack of response to unacceptable statements by imams, by supporters of the Revolutionary Committee, and by Salafis who are hostile to Tunisia’s Jews.” She declared that many such incidents have been neglected or marginalized, which she believes reflects a conspiracy between the judiciary and those who curse or incite to kill Jews.

This was not the first time that incitement against Jews has been reported in the public sphere within Tunisia since the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, thus prompting Jewish community leaders to demand security protection from the Tunisian government. Prior to this, Tunisian demonstrators had greeted Ismail Haniyeh with the chant “Kill the Jews” upon his visit in the North African nation; a Salafi sheikh stated that the Jews should get ready for war during a demonstration calling for Shariah law, and Islamists had demonstrated outside of a Tunisian synagogue, shouting anti-semitic slogans and called out to murder the Jews.

The roots of the Tunisian Jewish community date back to antiquity. According to Flavius Josephus, Julius Caesar granted a special status to the Jews of the newly created Roman province of what used to be Carthage. Jews contributed greatly to Tunisian society and culture, and for most of Tunisian history lived in relative peace and security. However, following anti-semitic riots in the 1960’s, many Tunisian Jews left the country since their plight had deteriorated. A long series of violent provocations and murderous acts, climaxing in the bombing of the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba in 2002, finished off the historically positive relationship between Muslim and Jewish Tunisians. Today, a community that used to number 100,000 souls merely has 2,000.

By Rachel Avraham