Tunisia’s parliament is scheduled to consider next week a draft law criminalizing the normalization of relations with Israel as pro-Palestinian protests continue in the country amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
This comes after 97 members of parliament out of a total 154 called on the Freedom Committee to expedite consideration of the bill by the full legislature.
The bill will be on Monday’s parliamentary agenda for discussion and approval, Youssef Youssef Tarshoun, head of the Sovereign National Line bloc, told the news website Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.
According to Tarshoun, the draft law imposes penalties ranging from six to 12 years in prison, with a fine ranging from 10,000 Tunisian dinars ($3,148) to 100,000 dinars ($31,482) against anyone who attempts to or participates in economic, cultural or military activities with Israel, the Tunisian MP said.
The draft law covers “crimes of espionage, supporting the Zionist enemy, and carrying weapons against the Palestinians, along with the crime of placing oneself at the mercy of the Zionist entity,” Tarshoun added.
The Sovereign National Line bloc, an alliance between the nationalist People’s Movement and the leftist United Democratic Patriots Party, had submitted a bill in July to parliament criminalizing relations with Israel. If approved on Monday, the draft will then go to the president for final ratification before it becomes law.
The bill comes as Israel continues its aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip in response to the attack launched by Hamas on southern Israel on Oct. 7, leaving 1,400 people dead, most of them civilians. More than 7,000 Palestinians have since been killed in Israeli airstrikes, including at least 3,000 children, as the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave continues to deteriorate.
The Israel-Hamas war has given rise to protests across North Africa and the Middle East, some of them turning violent. In Tunisia, thousands of protesters gathered outside the French Embassy last week, demonstrating against Western support for Israel.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council last week, Tunisian President Saied condemned the “international silence” over what he described as “crimes of genocide” committed by Israel in Gaza.
Tunisia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, but Israelis can apply for a travel visa to make a pilgrimage to the Mediterranean island of Djerba, which houses a historic synagogue. The North African country is also home to a small community of between 1,500 to 2,000 Jews, who live mainly in Djerba.
Last week, a group of protesters carrying a Palestinian flag torched a Jewish holy site in the central Tunisian city of al-Hamma.
Meanwhile, President Saied was last month denounced as antisemitic for remarks he made about Storm Daniel, which killed thousands of people in Libya.
“Didn’t anyone wonder why the name Daniel was chosen?” asked Saied, who then responded, “Because the Zionist movement has infiltrated minds and thinking, we’ve fallen into a cognitive coma.”
Calls in Tunisia to criminalize normalization with Israel are not new, but they have intensified since several Arab countries, including neighboring Morocco along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, established relations with the Jewish state in 2020. At the time, President Saied called the US-brokered agreement, known as the Abraham Accords, a “betrayal of the Palestinians.”
Lawmakers in several Arab countries have sought to criminalize any relations with Israel in the past. Last year, a number of Algerian MPs submitted a bill criminalizing relations with Israel and forbidding travel there.
In June 2022, Iraq’s parliament passed a similar bill under which any cooperation or activities with Israel would be punishable by life in prison or death.