TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia's president reassured his nation's Jews of their place in society Wednesday in a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of an al-Qaida truck bomb at a synagogue on the island of Djerba that killed 21 people.
President Moncef Marzouki flew to the island accompanied by Tunisia's grand rabbi, Haim Bitan, to lay a wreath and observe a moment of silence to remember the victims of the truck bombing, which included 14 German and two French tourists. The ambassadors of France and Germany attended, along with the families of the victims.
"All forms of discrimination against Jews, assaults on their lives, possessions or religion are forbidden," he said in a speech inside the synagogue, as he unveiled a plaque. "Tunisian Jews are an integral part of our people and they share all the rights and duties. Whoever violates their rights, attacks all Tunisians."
The speech comes at a time when Tunisia's small, 1,500-strong Jewish community is facing pressure from ultraconservative Muslim groups, after an uprising last year overthrew Tunisia's decades-old secular dictatorship.
At a demonstration of Salafi activists on March 25 calling for the implementation of Islamic law, a Muslim religious leader chanted slogans to "prepare for the fight against the Jews," prompting the leader of the Jewish community, Roger Bismuth, to file a lawsuit against him.
"This trip is a message of solidarity and respect for the Jewish community of Tunisia whose members are considered full citizens," Adnan Mancer, the spokesman for the president, told The Associated Press.
He said Marzouki, a prominent human rights campaigner against the old dictatorship, is "saying he is a president for all Tunisians, Muslims, Christians and Jews."
The Israeli government, which called for the country's remaining Jews to emigrate last December, welcomed Marzouki's move as a positive sign.
"It can signal a renewal of the pact between the new democratic government and the Jewish community," said an official with the Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. The official said a member of the ruling Islamist party should have attended the ceremony.