(JTA) – A Tunisian watchdog group on racism accused promoters of a boycott against Israel of anti-Semitism after they protested the invitation extended to a Jewish comedian to appear at a local festival.
The accusation Thursday by the Tunisian Association for Support of Minorities was over an open letter sent earlier this week to the Tunisian Ministry of Culture and the organizers of the annual Catharge Festival of music next month to protest the invitation extended by organizers to Michel Boujenah, a well-known Tunisia-born French Jewish standup artist.
The letter, authored by Tunisian activists of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, says that Boujenah, who often speaks lovingly of his native Tunisia during his shows, should not be allowed to perform because he is a Zionist.
Boujenah, who is not a citizen of Israel, has often spoken during interviews about his support for Israel, including during a 2009 talk with Gilles Sitruk, an organizer of interfaith delegations to Israel and writer.
“We Diaspora Jews have no qualms about declaring our admiration for Israel,” Boujenah said in that interview. “A justified admiration as the people to which I belong want peace more than anything.”
He also said: “I feel Jewish, French, Tunisian, Zionist and very close to Israel, as well as a supporter of a Palestinian state. In short, one big balagan,” the Hebrew-language word for “mess.”
Citing this interview and others, the BDS activists wrote in their request to officials and the organizers of the festival to cancel Boujenah’s participation: “No place for the Zionists, whatever their nationality, in our country and festivals.”
Yet Yamina Thabet, the president of the Tunisian Association for Support of Minorities, told the Tribune Juive Jewish newspaper in France that the activists are “cowardly taking anti-Jewish action.”
Calling for a boycott of Boujenah’s show “under the pretext of fighting Zionism is nothing but an anti-Jewish act. We know this is a Tunisian who has always spoken loud and clear about his attachment” to Tunisia, she added in the interview, which was published Thursday.
In 2009, another French-Jewish comedian, Gad Elamaleh, was forced to cancel a tour in Lebanon amid threats over his ethnicity. In 2014, Bernard-Henri Levy, a French Jewish philosopher and supporter of Israel, was greeted at Carthage Airport in Tunis by protesters who shouted “No to Zionist power in Tunisia” and “Get lost.”