Hope for Libyan Jews as U.S. Government contacts Libyan NTC
A letter given to Kosher Curry shows that the U.S. State Department has made contact with the Libyan government – the National Transitional Council (NTC) – about Libya’s human rights record. To quote the letter, Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister says that his government is “fully committed to religious tolerance and to a dialogue with religious minorities.” The letter was written by David S. Adams, who is Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs at the State Department in the U.S.
“The U.S. Government has regularly urged the Libyan government at the highest levels to implement the human rights principles enshrined in its constitutional charter,” the letter goes on. While it acknowledges that no “specific steps” have been taken to “to recognise” the World Organisation of Libyan Jews (WOJL), it continues to say that the “Libyan government has not taken specific steps to recognise any other diaspora group” because of its limited mandate. The government is a transitional regime – as their name might suggest – and is only in power until the upcoming elections in June.
David Gerbi with the Deputy Chairman of the NTC, Salem Gnan
That the U.S. government is lobbying the Libyans about ethnic minorities is good news for Libyan Jews. (****What about the black Libyans? Are they not minorities?) WOJL hope to re-establish Jewish cultural sites in Libya in order to provide suitable memorials to the Jewish population, which no longer lives there. In 2011, David Gerbi’s attempts to re-open Tripoli’s synagogue – which had remained shut for 45 years – failed as armed protesters swarmed around the building.
Most Jewish people left Libya in the month after the Six Day War in 1967. (**** Meaning they left before Qaddafi’s Revolution. It was not Qaddafi’s Regime that chased the Libyan Jews to leave the country, another misinformation to demonize Qaddafi! The West does not know that in the last six years before the war all Libyan Jews where slowly returning to Libya and where refunded for the loss of their properties, also the West did not bother to mention!!!!)The last Jewish woman in Libya, Rina Debach, died in 2003. But WOJL have made a number of attempts to re-establish a synagogue in recent years, all in the form of one man: David Gerbi. “This letter is fantastic news,” he told me.
Friends in America
The letter is the culmination of years of work across three different continents. Much of it stems from Mr Gerbi. After he tried to re-open the synagogue in Tripoli last year, Gianfrano Ventre – a Libyan-Christian living in America – saw a CNN news video on American TV about Gerbi and what he had tried to do. Mr Ventre then got in touch with a number of Congressmen, 16 of whom have been in touch with the U.S. government ever since. Chief among them is Shelley Berkley, a U.S. Congresswoman from Nevada. The most recent letter – dated April 16th – is addressed to her.
“Without Shelley and Gianfranco,” Mr Gerbi told me, “we would be a lot worse off. They have been heroes.”
While the Libyan Jews are not a well-known minority across the Jewish world, other minority groups have been quick to offer their support. Levana Zamir, an Egyptian-born Jewish activist, said, “I support Mr Gerbi’s raising the subject [of Libyan Jewish heritage sites] at the United Nations… Their success is our success.”
Re-opening the Synagogue
Yet the real battle is inside Libya. Fuelled by years of misinformation from the Gadaffi regime over the last 45 years, the opposition to a Jewish presence in Libya remains strong. An article written recently on this website provoked fierce debate on David Gerbi’s Facebook page. Much of it was critical. “The simple fact we are having a debate, an argument,” he told me, “is far better than what happened under the Gadaffi regime.” The Colonel is to blame for much of the anti-Semitism in Libyan society. He consistently fed a number of stories to the wider population about the former Jewish population; the vast majority of them were untrue. (***** This is absolute bull with no merit, if that was so, why was Qaddafi regime refunding all Libyan Jews? they were welcomed back anytime but we would never recognize Israel that’s the difference! so please stop with the crocodile lies! Libyans are Libyans whatever there religion is. If any one wants to dispute what I am saying I do have documents saying the contrary from these american article)
David Gerbi with Moncef Guitoni
But there is still significant cause for belief because of things happening inside Libya as well as in America. Mr Gerbi had “positive” talks with an NTC representative – Mohammed A. Elmontasser – when he was in Rome last month. Most of all, Gerbi believes there are many Libyans who agree with him. “It’s important to remember all the people who helped me when I was in Libya,” he told me. “There are too many to name.” One man, in particular, sticks in Mr Gerbi’s mind: “Moncef – who ran a hotel – saved me from a massive protest. If it were not for Moncef I would be dead.”
There are also positive signs in the political landscape. The Democratic Party is one of those vying for seats at the coming June elections. Ahmed Shebani, their leader, says that one of their key aims is “the recognition of Israel and the eventual freedom of return for Libyan Jews.”
It’s not going to be quick or easy, but there are signs that Libyan Jews might be able to re-open Tripoli’s synagogue one day. One thing is certain: David Gerbi will be there to do it with them.