Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Will Jews Play a Role in Post-Revolutionary Libya?

I find nothing surprising about the story of David Gerbi, a Libyan-born Jew who attempted to return "home" and restore the dilapidated Dar al-Bishi synagogue in Tripoli. About a week later, Gerbi flew to Rome, where he resides, after a protest was convened over his presence. The main objections of the protestors included Gerbi's support for Zionism and his past relations/negotiations with al-Qadaffi. The Libyan Jewish diaspora is currently split regarding his visit.

Protestors objected to David Gerbi's presence. One sign reads, "David, go back to where you belong...there is no place for a Zionist among us!" (Aljazeera.net)

So, in the short-run, it seems unlikely that Jews will play a role in Libya. (thus the title of this blog post is largely rhetorical) However, it would be premature to dismiss the Arab Spring in Libya on the basis of Gerbi's experience, adopting old arguments about Libyans being too barbaric or anti-Semitic to allow Jews to participate in a democracy. There is no denying past violence and injustices committed against Libyan Jews. Nevertheless, we should not abandon the possibility of some kind of future Jewish political participation and return to Libya, which, however unlikely, remains intriguing.

Other aspects of Gerbi's visit are of interest to me. Gerbi's request to become a representative of the Libyan Jews on the Transitional National Council is still pending.

                          David Gerbi is interviewed via Skype after his visit to Libya. 

Also, the Qadaffi regime and the rebels were in a sense "competing" over the Libyan Jews this summer, seeking to incorporate them as a symbol of tolerance and diversity. Al-Qadaffi sent a delegation to Tel-Aviv this summer, desperate to repair his tarnished international image. (Saif al-Islam had invited Libyan Jews to return to Libya in 2004.) Rebels invited Raphael Luzon, a Jew born in Benghazi, who currently resides in the UK, to return to Libya and take part in politics.

“I said I would accept it once I see it is real democracy and the proposal is offered,” Luzon told the Jerusalem Post in August. “If I do it I do it for one matter: the historical matter. The first Arab country that proposed that a Jew run in a free election," he said.

Luzon was interviewed last week in Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, where he discussed (among other things), David Gerbi's visit to Libya.

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