Tunisia says Israeli tourists are welcome

Israeli tourists may enter Tunisia with prearranged papers, and Jews should feel comfortable attending a major Lag B’Omer festival in May, the Tunisian tourism minister said.

Amel Karboul contacted JTA after Tunisia denied entry recently to Israeli tourists aboard a Norwegian cruise liner.

“We are open to all visitors,” Karboul said March 13 in a phone interview from Paris, where she had met with Jewish groups, including representatives of the American Jewish Committee. “I want to use this occasion to invite the Jewish community to come and celebrate this pilgrimage with us.”

Norwegian Cruise Lines said the policy requiring pre-arranged visas was a new one and that the denial of entry to 20 Israeli passengers aboard its Jade ship was discriminatory. It canceled stops in Tunisia until the country resolves the matter.

Karboul said the policy was always in place, and that she was attempting to reach out to officials of Norwegian Cruise Lines to explain what happened.

She said visitors from countries such as Israel, which does not have a visa waiver agreement with Tunisia, must arrange visas beforehand. Karboul named Egypt and Brazil as other countries whose citizens must arrange visas in advance.

In the case of Israel, which has not had diplomatic relations with Tunisia since 2000, Karboul said would-be visitors are faxed the requisite papers from Tunisian legations outside Israel.

Each year hundreds of Jews of Tunisian descent, including visitors from the Israel, attend Lag B’Omer festivities on the island of Djerba. This year, the festival, marking a break during the 49 days of counting down between Passover and Shavuot, falls on May 18.

The Jewish presence on the island is believed to date back to the first exile, in the sixth century BCE. — jta