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Tunisians protest Israel outside office of Jewish minister

Tunisians protest Israel outside office of Jewish minister

TUNIS, Tunisia — Dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged a protest in Tunisia’s capital against Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians Saturday.

The protest was held outside the Tourism Ministry. The country’s newly named tourism minister, Rene Trabelsi, is Jewish, only the third Jewish person to ever be named a minister in the country.

Protesters expressed anger about Israeli settlements and called for a Palestinian state, with posters reading “Palestine is Arab, no choice but rifles,” and “Tunisia is free, Zionists out.”

The crowd included left-wing groups pushing a law that would make it a crime to normalize relations with Israel.

Tunisians hold anti-Israel posters outside the Tunisian Tourism Ministry in Tunis, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (AP/Hassene Dridi)

Tunisia’s government has downplayed the proposed law, and moderate Islamist party Ennahdha warned such a bill could hurt Tunisia’s relations with Western nations and international organizations.

Tunisia, like most Arab countries, doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel.

In this file photo taken on May 02, 2018, Rene Trabelsi speaks on the phone outside the Ghriba Synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Trabelsi, a tour operator who also organizes a yearly pilgrimage to the country’s famous Ghriba synagogue, became the first Jewish minister in the country in decades when he was named to the post last month.

Trabelsi grew up on the island of Djerba, the heartland of Tunisia’s Jewish community and the site of a pilgrimage which attracts thousands of people each year.

His father, Perez, has been the leader of the Jewish community there since 1985 and is president of the Ghriba synagogue there.

A Tunisian Jewish woman is seen in the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 1, 2018 on the eve of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue.

Trabelsi’s role co-organizing the pilgrimage, along with his enthusiastic banter and passion for Jewish-Muslim coexistence, have made him a prominent figure in the media.

Tunisia is seen as a model of tolerance in the region but has faced growing Islamic extremism.

AFP contributed to this report

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