Tunisia Parliament Speaker faces backlash as anti-Israel normalisation vote postponed

Law expected to outline a number of punishments for engagement with Israel

Tunisians demonstrate during a rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza outside the US embassy. AP
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Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Tunisian Parliament on Monday to denounce Parliament Speaker Ibrahim Bouderbela's decision to postpone a public session to vote on a draft law that would criminalise the normalisation of relations with Israel.

“The draft law has been discussed in previous parliaments and every time it failed to pass as it never reached the necessary votes threshold … They [MPs] always came up with vague excuses to justify that,” Ela Hedef, a member of the Tunisian Anti-Normalisation Campaign, told The National on the sidelines of Monday’s protest.

The proposal, which was submitted by the National Sovereign parliamentary bloc, is intended to punish those who might engage or co-operate with Israel in all sectors including, trade, the economy and cultural activities, as well as international or private events that take place in the country or any territories subject to Israeli control.

The proposed law stipulates harsh punishments, including a life jail sentence, for any act that could be perceived as attempting normalisation.

“The law is going to pass no matter what, whether there are opposers or supporters, it is going to pass,” Mohamed Ali, an MP from the National Sovereign bloc who participated in the drafting of the law, told The National outside parliament.

Ninety-seven MPs approved the draft law last week, however the Parliament Speaker’s unilateral decision to postpone Monday’s public session sparked anger among lawmakers and the public.

Mr Ali said that his bloc is now pressuring parliament to conduct a public voting session on Thursday, while accusing some parties of trying to undermine the process.

“For me, it is natural for the process to include debate in order to reach a consensus, however, some people might be trying to shake this process,” he said, without naming the people.

Ms Hedef said that the demand to criminalise normalisation with Israel does not only stem from the fact that Israel is “an occupying entity” but previous crimes perpetrated against Tunisia, such as the bombing of the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in Tunis in 1985 that killed dozens of Tunisians and Palestinians.

“We have blood between us and Tunisia is supposed to consider itself in a continuous state of war with Israel for that bombing,” Ms Hedef explained.

The UN Security Council condemned the attack and called on Israel to pay reparations for the human and material losses of Tunisians, but Israel never adhered to the resolution.

Several artists and athletes have faced backlash in the past for participating in events alongside Israelis.

Tennis star Ons Jabeur received death threats after playing against an Israeli opponent last year.

Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi received intense criticism recently for scheduling a concert in Jaffa city.

Since the Israeli military began the heavy bombardment of Gaza and the deaths of more than 8,000 people, thousands of Tunisians have rallied in the street demanding their government criminalise any form of normalisation of relations with Israel.

Demands have also included the expulsion of the French and American ambassadors for perceived complicity in the recent attacks on Gaza.

Updated: October 30, 2023, 4:23 PM