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memri
July 12, 2017 No.
7005

Tunisian Human Rights Association, Liberal Party Denounce Call To Ban Jewish Comedian Michel Boujenah From Tunisian Arts Festival For Being A Zionist: 'Leave Art And Artists Out Of Political Controversies'

After Tunisian-born French Jewish comedian Michel Boujenah was invited to perform at the International Festival of Carthage, a music festival held every summer in the city, Tunisian activists identified with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement demanded to exclude him from the festival for being a Zionist.[1]

In interviews, Boujenah has identified as a Zionist and expressed support for Israel, alongside support for Palestinian independence. For example, in a 2009 interview he said: "I feel Jewish, French, Tunisian, Zionist and very close to Israel, as well as a supporter of a Palestinian state."[2] In an open letter they sent to the Tunisian Culture Ministry and to the organizers of the festival, [3] the activists demanded to cancel Boujenah's show at the festival because "there is no place for the Zionists, whatever their nationality, in our country and festivals."[4]


Image: Nawaat.org, June 26, 2016

The call to ban Boujenah from the festival sparked a reaction from Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities (TASM), who denounced it and defended Boujenah's right to perform.[5] The Tunisian Liberal Party likewise criticized the call in a statement it posted on its Facebook page, which said: "The Tunisian Liberal Party is deeply sorry that Tunisian artist Michel Boujenah should be the subject of media and political campaigns to prevent him from performing at the Carthage Theater." The statement urged to "keep art and artists out of political controversies." [6]

On June 29, 2017, the Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis reported on the affair and on TASM's denunciation of the call to cancel Boujenah's show. The following is a translation of the report.[7]

Statement on Tunisian Liberal Party's Facebook page, July 9, 2017

"Termed a Zionist, Boujenah, a great defender of his homeland Tunisia, is not liked by all his compatriots. Some were even outraged when he was scheduled to perform at the Carthage Festival, and called to boycott him. The international campaign for boycotting Zionism sent a letter to the Minister of Cultural Affairs and the director of the Carthage Festival asking them to cancel the show. In the letter, Boujenah’s opponents quoted his words of support for Israel and its army, as he expressed them in the media.

"On the other hand, many Tunisians defended the comedian, such as Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities (TASM), who said that this call to boycott him amounts to antisemitism. 'I am not here to defend a person who does not need defending, nor am I here to utter sugary words about nostalgia and the bond to one’s homeland, as if being non-Muslim requires one to prove [one's patriotism]! What I denounce is the cowardly behavior of those who do not have the guts to acknowledge their hatred and therefore hide the under guise of some general excuse,' [Thabet] wrote on her Facebook page, while recalling that Michel Boujenah is a Tunisian who always declared out loud his attachment to the homeland [Tunisia]. And as such, [she said,] he has the right to perform in Tunisia and meet his fans in our country, and there are many of them."[8]


TASM meeting chaired by Yamina Thabet (Facebook.com/yamina.thabet)

 


[1] The open letter was authored by activists of the Tunisian Campaign for Boycott of and Opposition to the Zionist Entity, also referred to as "BDS Tunisia." On its Facebook page (@BDSTunisia), the group states that it is "not a branch of the BDS, but is a partner of the BDS in Tunisia."

[2] Jta.org, June 30, 2017.

[3] For the open letter in Arabic, see nawaat.org, June 26, 2017.

[4] Jta.org, June 30, 2017.

[6] Facebook.com/P.L.Tun2, July 9, 2017.

[7] Kapitalis.com, June 29, 2017.

[8] Kapitalis.com, June 29, 2017