Israeli and Tunisian diplomats locked in a war of words after Israel said it was upping funding to help Jews move from the North African country to Israel.
Israeli and Tunisian diplomats were locked in a war of words on Tuesday over Jewish immigration after Israel said it was upping funding to help Jews move from the North African country to Israel.
On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet signed off on a package of funding to help Tunisian Jews move to Israel, citing "the worsening of the Tunisian authorities' and society's attitude toward the Jewish community, as well as the difficult economic situation that has been created in the country since the revolution."
That drew a furious response from the Tunisian foreign ministry, which condemned Israel's "interference" in the country's internal affairs by offering financial incentives to encourage Jews to emigrate.
It also prompted the leader of the Jewish community in Tunisia to criticize the Israeli government for its offer and say that "no Jew is going to leave the country."
The ministry expressed "great regret" over what it described as "a malicious call to Tunisian citizens to immigrate to Israel in an attempt to damage the image of Tunisia after the revolution and to create suspicion about its security, its economy and its stability.
"Tunisia is outraged by the statements... (from) a country which still denies the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, shamefully defying international law," it said.
The strongly worded statement sparked surprise in Israel.
"We are surprised by the fact Tunisian immigrants are flocking by their thousands at the gates of Europe and there is not a single word from the Tunisian ministry of foreign affairs," said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Perez Trabelsi -
President of Jewish community in Djerba
Michael Jankelowitz, spokesman for the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency responsible for Jewish immigration to Israel said on Tuesday that since the uprising kicked off in December, only around 16 immigrants had arrived from Tunisia.
The Jewish community in Tunisia is still one of the largest in the Arab world but its numbers have dropped from 100,000 in 1956, when it won independence from France, to around 1,500 today.
Meanwhile, Perez Trabelsi, president of the Jewish community on Djerba, Tunisia, said "Israeli officials have received false information about our situation.
"We are Tunisians above all, and we do not have any problems. We live like everyone else, and no Jew is going to leave the country.