Jewish children play in the Hara Kebira neighborhood, Djerba; photo Tunisia-live.net.

by Hana Levi Julian

Newly-elected Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, a veteran human rights activist, is making it clear that the country’s Jews are safe and have nothing to fear.

According to a recent statement carried by the state news agency, Marzouki asserted during a meeting with the country’s Chief Rabbi Haim Bittan that Tunisia’s Jewish community, numbering around 1,500 people, enjoyed full citizenship. The president also emphasized, in an apparent response for a call by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom – himself of Tunisian extraction – for the country’s remaining Jews to consider moving to Israel, that the tens of thousands who had left decades ago were welcome to return.

Rabbi Shmuel Pinson, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Brussels whose late father directed Jewish educational programs in Tunisia, was gratified by the show of support from the country’s highest office. He believed that irrespective of whether Marzouki was intending to support a mass remigration of Tunisian Jews or merely to strengthen his country as a Jewish tourist destination, the new president was sincere in protecting his Jewish citizens.

Though Pinson doubted a major return of Jews to Tunisia, “the president is saying that Jews are welcome, are safe, and will continue to be safe,” explained the rabbi. “We’re very grateful for that.”

Thousands of Jews flocked to the North African country for vacations and to visit their families for Jewish holidays every year until the Jasmine Revolution ignited in January. Fears were renewed with the Oct. 25 electoral rise of the Islamist Ennahda Party, prompted concerns for the tiny Jewish community among Israeli officials and others abroad.

But Pinson, who makes regular trips to the country to support the Jewish communities on the island of Djerba and in Tunis, said that the reality on the ground is that Tunisia’s Jews are protected.

“The situation seems to be a little calmer now,” he said. “The Tunisians will not harm the Jews, and there will be security for them.”

courtesy Chabad.org News