Sunday, July 17, 2011

In Tunisia, the Arab Spring is Producing a Bitter Harvest

Jews of Tunis, circa 1900

Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring. A frustrated fruit vendor's self-immolation in December 2010 led to mass street protests that by the following month had unseated President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power. Because Tunisia is homogeneous, relatively prosperous and has a tradition of secularism and women's rights, observers had hoped these characteristics would help turn Tunisia into an example of progressive Arab democracy.

That now seems unlikely. As reported in the Jerusalem Post, early this month, the authority in charge of post-Ben Ali political reform adopted a "republican pact" to form the basis of a new constitution. The completed pact included the provision prohibiting ties with Israel. Islamist parties, along with Arab nationalists and extreme leftist factions, are pushing to implement a constitutional provision that would ban normalization of relations with Israel.

The constitutional provision does not prohibit normal relations with Israel while it occupies lands captured in 1967. It does not prohibit normal relations with Israel while there is no settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It forbids normal relations with Israel, period.

Once again events prove the truth of the George Will aphorism: "The problem in the Arab world is not that Israel is being provocative, but rather that Israel's being is provocative."

Let's think about just how radical and unusual such a constitutional provision would be in international affairs. For over 70 years, the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a Cold War and were implacable enemies. Yet no one ever seriously proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning normal diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, nor was a provision banning normal relations with the U.S. ever a part of the Soviet constitution.

At a rally held a week ago in Tunis to oppose any attempt to remove the anti-Israel provision from the draft constitution, Tunisian veterans who took part in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war were featured. To refresh the readers' memories, the Arab nations who attacked Israel in 1948 were not trying to keep Israel within its June 1967 borders, they were trying to strangle the newborn nation at birth.

Moreover, following the creation of the State of Israel, the Jewish community of Tunisia, which dated back to the Roman Empire, dwindled under unrelenting oppression from 110,000 to about 1700 today. About half of Tunisia's Jews fled to Israel, and half to France.


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