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Tunisia’s Jews on edge after crowd torches synagogue amid Gaza protests

History of heated rhetoric and reaction to Israel's war against Hamas may spill over to the small local Jewish population.
A Jewish man and a child walk through the Hara Kebira, the main Jewish quarter in the resort island of Djerba, near the Ghriba synagogue following a shooting spree by a police officer on the southern Tunisian island on May 10, 2023. Tunisian authorities were investigating the shootings that claimed five lives and sparked mass panic during a Jewish pilgrimage at Africa's oldest synagogue today. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP) (Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)

The destruction of a Jewish holy site in the Tunisian city of Al Hamma has left the North African nation’s tiny Jewish population feeling ever more vulnerable amid anti-Semitic comments by the country’s authoritarian president, Kais Saied.

A pro-Palestinian protest descended into a frenzied rampage this week as hundreds of men brandishing Palestinian flags and chanting Islamist slogans descended on the tomb of 16th-century Kabbalist Rabbi Yosef Ma’aravi on Oct. 17, setting fire to the shrine and hacking at its walls to protest Israel's military assault upon Gaza. 

“The Jews are scared. In every event that Palestinians get killed, the Jews of Tunisia get attacked in turn. It’s a ritual,” lamented Rafram Chaddad, a Tunisian Jewish artist, who has campaigned on behalf of the Palestinians for years. “I would not dare show myself on the street at this time,” Chaddad told Al-Monitor.

The tomb, which was not an active site of worship as no Jews live in Al Hamma, was heavily damaged, according to videos and images posted to social media.

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