Tunisia appoints first Jewish minister in the Arab world for sixty years

19.11.2018

Tunisia's new tourism minister sought to brush aside concerns about his Jewish background Tuesday by laying out plans to dramatically boost tourist visits to a terrorism-struck country.

"It is a historic day. I have been working in the tourism sector in Tunisia for 20 years, and today I have new ideas," Rene Trabelsi said. "The goal in 2019 is to reach 9 million tourists," he added, hoping to reverse a downward trend sparked by terrorist attacks in recent years.

Tourism has suffered since 2015, when the Northern African nation saw a string of attacks that were mostly claimed by the Islamic State extremist militia. Arrivals in 2015 fell to 5.3 million, compared to 7.1 million tourists in 2014.

In June 2017, two German female tourists were stabbed and wounded near the city of Hammamet in north-eastern Tunisia.

Trabelsi, the first Jewish minister in the country in six decades, owes his job to a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and approved by parliament late Monday. He is now the third member of the country's Jewish minority to enter a cabinet since independence in 1956. The last to do so was in 1958. Tunisia's Jewish community has dwindled to about 2,000, from 100,000 in the mid 20th-century.

Trabelsi is a France-based businessman who organises trips for Jewish pilgrims to visit Ghriba Synagogue on Djerba island in the south-east of Tunisia. His father, Perez, is the president of the synagogue.

Ahead of the parliament's vote, leftist and nationalist groups opposed to normalisation with Israel led a protest against Trabelsi's appointment, saying that he has close ties with Israel, a claim the minister denied.

Tunisia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.    (dpa)

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