Prominent Tunisians pledge to fight normalization with Israel

Marchers in the Tunisian capital Tunis carry a giant unified Palestinian and Tunisian flag during an 8 December 2017 protest of US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Chedly Ben Ibrahim NurPhoto/Sipa USA

One hundred prominent Tunisian intellectuals, artists and civil society leaders have signed a pledge “to fight all forms of normalization of relations of the Arab world with the Zionist colonial state.”

They are urging colleagues in Tunisia and its diaspora to adhere to the Palestinian call for a total boycott of Israeli institutions.

Hafidha Chekir, a law professor and vice president of the international human rights federation FIDH, said she hoped that the call will help to generate more solidarity with the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian freedom and equality and “above all to convince Arab leaders to accompany and support the legitimate demands of this people.”

The call was published to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the popular revolution that overthrew long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings across the region.

Revolutionary solidarity

Civil society call to resist normalization with Israel received front-page coverage in Tunisia’s al-Maghreb.

While Tunisia is often seen as the only democratic success story relative to other so-called Arab Spring uprisings, Tunisians have again taken to the streets to protest austerity measures imposed by the government amid continued poverty and high unemployment.

Yet the political and economic situation in the country failed to push Palestine out of the headlines, and the anti-normalization call received front-page coverage in al-Maghreb, one of the country’s leading newspapers.

The signatories include Anouar Ben Kaddour and Sami Tahri, two leaders in the UGTT, the national trade union federation that won the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for its role in Tunisia’s democratic transition; Fadhel Moussa, a legal scholar and member of the constituent assembly that drew up Tunisia’s new constitution; and Monia Ben Jemia, president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, which also played a key role in the 2011 revolution.

They also include Latifa Lakhdhar and Habiba Ben Romdhane, ministers who have served in governments since the revolution; prominent actor and playwright Leila Toubel; film producer Habib Bel Hedi; and director Salma Baccar, who was also elected to the constituent assembly.

Since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, efforts have gathered pace in Tunisia’s parliament to pass a law banning normalization of ties with Israel.

That stands in marked contrast to other Arab regimes led by Saudi Arabia, which in spite of popular opposition are edging closer to embracing Israel publicly.

Tunisia, whose capital Tunis once hosted the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has repeatedly been the target of Israeli attacks. These include the bloody 1988 raid to assassinate in his home Khalil al-Wazir, a deputy to PLO leader Yasser Arafat. And in 1985, Israel carried out an air attack on the PLO offices, killing dozens.

Hamas has blamed Israel for the assassination in Tunisia in 2016 of Muhammad Zouari, a military aviation expert who advised the resistance group.

“New milestone”

The Tunisian boycott call urges people in particular to defend the “Palestinian right to education and academic freedom.”

“[Israel’s] dangerous and incessant attacks on academic freedom spare neither international students and academics who travel to Palestine to study and work in Palestinian academic institutions, nor even Israeli academics who dare to criticize Israeli colonial policy and apartheid,” said Nihel Ben Amar, professor at the National Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology of the University of Carthage.

Ben Amar added that all those who want to help defend academic freedom “should support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions as long as Israel does not recognize the rights of the Palestinian people as enshrined in international law.”

According to Ahmed Abbes, of CNRS, the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, BDS, an anti-racist civil society movement rooted in international law and human rights, “has found considerable resonance in Europe and the US, but remains so far relatively undeveloped in the Arab world.”

He says that organizers hope that the Tunisian call will mark “a new milestone for the BDS movement that we hope will be followed by others throughout the Arab world.”