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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09TUNIS306 2009-05-20 09:03:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tunis
Cable title:  

AMBASSADOR VISITS JEWISH COMMUNITY IN DJERBA

Tags:   PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM KPAO KIRF TS 
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VZCZCXRO8748
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHTU #0306/01 1400903
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 200903Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6305
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TUNIS 000306 

SIPDIS

NEA/MAG (PATTERSON/HAYES); DRL (JOHNSTONE/KLARMAN/COFSKY)
LONDON AND PARIS FOR NEA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2019
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM KPAO KIRF TS
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR VISITS JEWISH COMMUNITY IN DJERBA

Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

-------
Summary
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1. (C) Leaders of the Jewish community on the southern
island of Djerba were effusive about the support they
received from the GOT when giving the Ambassador a tour of El
Griba Synagogue, a local Jewish school, and a community
center on May 13. The leadership of a school for disabled
children was similarly positive about governmental support
when the Ambassador visited the school, which is supported by
an American NGO, on May 14. The Ambassador also discussed
Tunisian-American relations, tourism, and immigration with
local businessmen and politicians during a dinner in Djerba.
The group noted that the island, which relies heavily on
European tourists, might suffer in 2010 as Europe grapples
with the financial crisis. They were appreciative of the
Obama Administration,s public statements and policies so
far, but said that they were waiting for action for peace in
the Middle East. End Summary.



--------------------------


A Warm Welcome


--------------------------





2. (C) Perez Trabelsi and Yousef Uzon, Presidents of the
Jewish Community in Djerba, enthusiastically greeted the
Ambassador during his May 13-14 visit to the island. The
island hosts 5,000 to 6,000 visitors every year during the
festival of Lag B'omer in May. Trabelsi noted that
approximately 700 visitors came from Israel, but the majority
were from Europe. Both Trabelsi and Uzon expressed their
gratitude for the GOT,s support, including security for
synagogues. The GOT also allows Jewish children to split the
day between Tunisian schools and religious schools run by the
community. As for Lag B'omer, Trabelsi and Uzon opined that
the festival went smoothly despite an increasing number of
visitors every year. The Jewish community in Djerba also
enjoys good relations with organizations outside Tunisia.
When showing the Ambassador a local school, Uzon also pointed
out the computers in every classroom that were donated by the
Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an American NGO.



3. (C) Local businessmen and politicians offered some
interesting insights during a May 13 dinner in Djerba. The
group, which included member of parliament Mohamed Barouni,
hotel manager Riyadh Ben Aissa, and banker Khaled Bounouh,
speculated that Djerba might see a decline in tourism in 2010
as Europe feels the full effect of the global financial
crisis. According to Ben Aissa, over 50 percent of his
bookings occurred at the last-minute, which is common for the
island. This injects a high-degree of uncertainty into the
tourism industry, he said, in addition to making long-term
planning difficult. He added that the hotel retains only a
small core team of workers, relying more on short-term labor
consisting mostly of young Tunisians when demand rises. His
sister Dr. Wiam Rais noted that most Tunisian youth want
badly to go abroad, be it for education or employment. As
for the Obama Administration, the group was positive about
the Administration's remarks so far. They said they would
reserve judgment, however, pending further assessment of
Obama,s approach to the Middle East Peace Process, and
actions taken to advance it.



4. (C) Barouni also offered up an interesting anecdote
about a fellow member of parliament. He noted that one of
his colleagues is noted for always wearing a red carnation.
One day, however, he came to parliament wearing a white
carnation. When asked by his colleagues why, he chided his
colleagues for forgetting that President Ben Ali was
scheduled to speak to Parliament about his budget. The
parliamentarian said that the white flower represented his
surrender to Ben Ali's "carte blanche." The normally
loquacious MP reportedly said that on this occasion he
planned to say nothing.



5. (C) On May 14, Dr. Saghroun, one of the board members
for a school for disabled children, gave the Ambassador a
tour of the school's facilities, including a therapeutic
farm. Dr. Saghroun was very appreciative of the JDC, which
purchased the farm for the school for about $80,000 earlier
this year. The school was founded by Peace Corps volunteers
in 1984, but is now run by a parents association in
conjunction with local government officials. The school
supports students until the age of 30, although provisions
can be made for those over 30, with the goal of integrating
them into society as much as possible. Its students range
from mildly to severely disabled, and the school provides

TUNIS 00000306 002 OF 002


counseling and support to the parents as well as the
children. The school plans to open a pre-school for disabled
children in the near future.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





6. (C) For its part, the Djerbian Jewish community is happy
with the status quo, and appreciative of the security and
financial support provided by the GOT. Like the rest of the
island, however, their economic well-being is tied to the
tourism industry. Djerba is one of the more prosperous parts
of Tunisia, but the island is heavily reliant on seasonal
tourism. The industry is primarily oriented towards
mass-market hotels, not affluent travelers demanding luxury
and a unique experience, thus it is vulnerable to economic
downturns. It is possible that even if last-minute discounts
continue to lure Europeans in 2010, profits would fall as
hotels slash prices. End Comment.

Please visit Embassy Tunis' Classified Website at:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/tunis/index.c fm
Godec