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More on Tunisian Jews from Peace Corps-Tunisia friends who served with me as volunteers and staff 1966-1968

July 5, 2007

This from Dan Cetinich in California – an author and film maker. His history The Bosnian War: 1992-1995 in the D.U. Library

“Dear Robbie,

I read your e-mail concerning Sylvain Hayoun’s highly chauvinistic defense of Israel. It’s typical of defenders of Israel and reveals his anti-Arab racism, since he does not mention anything positive about the Palestinians, saying only in passing that they support Israel’s democracy. His views reflect those of Israel: the Palestinians are second-class citizens in their own country. And he sees all Arabs in that racist light.

Your response was on the mark, especially when you brought in Albert Memmi, whom I also highly respect. If you wish, I can say a few things about my experience there. It mainly had to do with Max Chemla, [a Tunisian Jewish friend of both of us, now in Paris r.p.]with whom I often socialized there and whom you know too. He never expressed any of the sentiments of Sylvain. At that time I was a supporter of Israel, but I slowly started to reevaluate my prejudices under the influence of my students at the College de Jeunes Filles de Carthage and the three wonderful sisters of my Saudi friend Khalid al Fawzan, a fellow student from the Jesuit University of San Francisco, whom I reconnected with on an Easter vacation trip to Paris in 1968.

The attitudes we all shared then sprang from a Western bias, Robbie. I remember “L’Express”‘ glowing support of the Israelis in the aftermath of the 1967 war. In my novel about the CIA in Paris in 1960-1961, I did research on the rarely discussed events of October 17, 1961, when peaceful Algerian demonstrators were brutally attacked by the police under Prefect Maurice Papon, who rounded up Jews during World War II. Algerians were clubbed, shot at and thrown into the Seine in the center of Paris. And the French people on the whole supported the police or did not want to be reminded of what happened. This has been the attitude of the West in general about the unknown Other, which happens to be anyone of another skin color or religion. Is it a universal quality of human beings? I don’t know, as I’m not an anthropologist like Boas or a sociologist like Weber.”

2. Phil Jones – lives in Washington D.C. Author of 5-6 novels. I’ve read parts of two of them, thought them quite fine although he has yet to get one published. Hopefully he will. We roomed together briefly at the outset of our stay in Tunis. Not knowing hot from mild peppers, and believing that `small’ was milder and `big’ was hotter, we put in a load of small peppers into a meat sauce. The sauce was so hot that just looking at it caused one to break into a sweat. Aestetically lovely…it was largely inedible.


This is a very good response. Who is this “Sylvain?” A Tunisian? French? [Phil – Sylvain claims to be of Tunisian Jewish origin. no reason to doubt that claim – rp]

Your point about the overall response of Tunisians and the Tunisian gov’t to anti-semitism is, as far as I know, right on target. Yet, in the past, I came across a website for Tunisian Jews who had left Tunisia because they felt forced out in some way. I can’t remember the name of that website now, but I will try to locate it and send you the address. I don’t think the complaints on this website negate anything you said, but you should at least be aware of these complaints. Are they true? I dunno. In today’s world, some complaints are valid, and some are just fucking whining and self-pity because we live in a culture of complaint and victimhood. Hard to figure out which is which in many cases.

3. Name withheld by RP

I’d agree with you, Rob; however, remember that I was one of the less [politically] `engaged’ volunteers and that I was more aware of men than politics!

4. Although not an email, i got a call about this from a friend – one of the few – with whom I often converse in French. He was especially pleased to see mention of Albert Memmi, of whom we both expressed our respect and spoke about for some time.

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