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Paris victim Yoav Hattab died a Tunisian patriot

Young Tunisians on social media extol a video of Rabbi Hattab comparing the tolerant atmosphere between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia to the hostile one in France, where his son was murdered by terrorists last week. There is, of course, some romanticizing going on.

“Tunisia is bereaved!” read the main headline on the front page of Sunday’s Le Temps, a French-language newspaper based in Tunis. Three of the people shot to death in Friday’s hostage-taking at a Parisian branch of the French kosher supermarket chain Hyper Cacher, were Tunisian citizens. One of them was Yoav Hattab, the 21 year-old son of the main rabbi of Tunis. Hattab, who was in Paris to complete his graduate studies, was a patriot: in a photo on the front page of Le Temps, he grins proudly while holding up a blue-inked index finger, proof that he had voted in his country’s first democratic election following the 2011 revolution.

(Rabbi Hattab has been widely described in French-language media as the chief rabbi of Tunisia’s small Jewish community.)

Tunisian newspaper_resized

In its report, Le Temps quotes witnesses who describe Hattab as a hero. Not only did he direct some women to safety in the cold storage room, where a Muslim employee from Mali protected them, but he also grabbed one of the weapons belonging to Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who stormed the supermarket, and tried to shoot him down. But Hattab didn’t have time to release the safety catch on the weapon before Coulibaly spotted him and shot him dead.

For young Tunisians on social media, Hattab has come to represent their hopes for their country. They are sharing and quoting a France 2 television interview with Rabbi Benjamin Hattab, the dead man’s father, in which he speaks passionately of the easy, mutually respectful relationship between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia. In contrast, he says sorrowfully, the atmosphere in Paris felt so hostile toward Jews that his son called him to apologize for being unwilling to run the risk of wearing his yarmulke in public. It was too dangerous, the young man told his father the rabbi (Haaretz reports that Yoav visited Israel this year, on a Birthright tour).

Shared many times is this excerpt from the interview, when Rabbi Hattab says emphatically, “”Les juifs sont respectés en Tunisie, on n’a pas de problèmes avant et après la révolution” (Jews are respected in Tunisia, we had no problems either before or after the revolution”).

Bearded, wearing a yarmulke and speaking in a voice made gravelly by exhaustion and grief, Hattab sits in the Paris television studio opposite Latifa Ibn Ziaten, a Moroccan-born French woman who wears a traditional Muslim headscarf. He describes his son as a young man who lived his life joyfully and with respect for his Jewish heritage. He only happened to be at the grocery store that Friday because he had been invited for Shabbat dinner and his father had taught him always to bring a bottle of wine as a gift for his hosts.

Mrs. Ibn Ziaten listens, her expression deeply sympathetic. Her son Imad, then a 30-year-old career soldier in the French army, was killed in 2012 by a French citizen who had become a radical Islamist. In March 2012 Mohamed Merah went on a shooting rampage starting with Imad Ibn Ziaten, whom he shot at point-blank range after the paratrooper refused to kneel down. Merah killed seven people altogether, including three children at the local Jewish school.

Read also: The real reason Bibi wants French Jews to move to Israel

Addressing Rabbi Hattab, the soft-spoken bereaved mother, who has become active in combatting extremism in France, offers her condolences. She describes her own loss and then ticks off her French credentials: she has lived in France for 38 years, was educated there, feels absolutely and proudly French, but she still experiences prejudice because of her Muslim headscarf. And then she launches into a passionate speech about making the country a better place “because there is no other country like ours.” With Hattab nodding and making sounds of agreement, she talks about the importance of protecting France’s liberty, of making it a better place for its young people, of tolerance and acceptance, and so on. “We must get to work,” she says, “because there’s nothing like the liberty we have in France.”

Tolerance for the French, patriotism for Tunisians

It’s quite an extraordinary scene. Two very dignified French-speaking North Africans, one Jewish and one Muslim, both made bereaved parents by Islamist terrorists — one because his son was Jewish, and the other because her son was a Muslim who served in the French army — both speaking about their shared respect and love for France and its values.

For French television, the image of the bearded rabbi and the Muslim woman in headscarf and the words of co-existence, empathy, and national solidarity expressed by Rabbi Hattab and Mrs. Ibn Ziaten probably seemed like the most important message to convey. But for young Tunisians on Facebook and Twitter who shared the clip of that interview, the important bit is where Rabbi Hattab compares the tolerant atmosphere between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia to the hostile one in France. Yoav Hattab is their hero not only because he died trying to take down a terrorist, but also because he was both a patriotic citizen of Tunisia and a proud Jew. And his father the rabbi is their prophet because, while clearly in anguish over the death of his son, he is still able to speak movingly about his love for Tunisia and the good relations between its Jewish and Muslim citizens.

There is some romanticizing and wistfulness here. For many young Arabs who supported the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in 2011 and 2012, the exhilarating act of rising up against authoritarian leaders, and feeling a sense of agency over the future of their country for the first time, made them nostalgic for a multi-ethnic country that disappeared two generations before they were born. On social media they shared old black-and-white photos of a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic society where Jews and Muslims socialized at cafes and at the beach, the women wearing sleeveless dresses and stylish hairdos. They referred to books and films that make it clear Jews were prominent members of the political and economic elites. When I was in Cairo in 2011, people asked if I had read Andre Aciman’s Out of Egypt, or Lucette Lagnado’s Man in a White Sharkskin Suit, both memoirs by Egyptian-born Jews who were forced to emigrate in the 1950s and 1960s. The books were prominently displayed at Diwan, the posh Zamalek bookshop-cafe that sells English-language books.

Nostalgia for a bygone era

The subtext in all this longing for an imagined lost world was that once, before despots took over for the departing colonial powers and before Zionism destabilized the regional ethnic balance, Jews had been an integral part of the Arab world. This is not an inaccurate narrative, but it is somewhat over-simplified.

The nostalgia for that old world is shared primarily by secular, multi-lingual, urban millennials. On Twitter and Facebook these Tunisians in their 20s and 30s have posted angry comments about their government’s failure to issue an official statement regarding the Jewish citizens who were killed in Paris. Quite a few have noted with contempt that only the Islamist Ennahdha Party has extended condolences to the bereaved families. Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities (ATSM) and a friend of Yoav Hattab’s, told a journalist for the French daily Libération that the authorities’ silence was “hallucinatory.” “He was an extraordinary person,” she said of Hattab.“This is an enormous loss.”

So far, 3,600 people have indicated on Facebook that they will attend a memorial for Hattab, to be held January 17 on Avenue de la Liberte in Tunis, opposite the Great Synagogue. Called “Je Suis Yoav Hattab,” the event’s description is as follows (my translation from the French):

Yoav Hattab is a Tunisian patriot, the son of the chief rabbi of Tunis, originally from la Goulette [a suburb of northern Tunis – LG], killed in Paris by terrorists who took hostages at the Hyper Cacher grocery store. Yoav Hattab did not have French nationality. The only nationality he held was Tunisian. Let us honor him. Next shabbat we will gather together. Bring candles to light for the deceased. We will light them at 6.11 p.m. [after shabbat ends] in memory of Yoav.

The Israeli media has reported that the four Jewish men who were murdered at the Hyper Cacher will be buried in Jerusalem. But according to “Info du Jour,” a French-language Tunisian news site, Tunisia’s ambassador to France has confirmed that arrangements have been made to transport Yoav Hattab to his home country for burial. For the Tunisian millennials who have spent the past three days sharing photos of the young man with his blue-inked finger, and of another one that shows him wrapped in a Tunisian flag with a yarmulke on his head, this is simply the way it should be.

Update: According to a press release issued by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, all four Jewish victims of the market attack were to be flown to Israel for burial on Tuesday.

Correction: A previous version of this article carried the headline, “Yoav Hattab, son of Tunis chief rabbi, died a Tunisian patriot.” It was changed to reflect that Rabbi Hattab’s position as the main rabbi of Tunis’s small Jewish community is not officially a “chief rabbi” position.

Read also:
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    1. Pedro X

      jpost reports that Hattab intended to make Aliyah once his studies were complete. He was born in Tunisia but his heart was in Israel.

      “The body of Yoav Hattab, 21, who dreamed of flying to Israel to make aliya, will now arrive in a coffin early Tuesday morning along with the remains of three other victims of last Friday’s terrorist attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris.

      Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to eulogize them in the presence of their families at a state ceremony at Har Hamenuhot Cemetery in Jerusalem.

      Hattab, the son of the chief rabbi of Tunis, had just returned one week earlier from a Taglit-Birthright trip.

      He stood out during the 10-day trip for his humor, leadership skills, and love of Israel, said Nathan Levi, an Israeli student from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who took part in the trip.

      They had met on the second day of the trip. Upon hearing his name, Levi said he had a brother who was also called Yoav.

      “We’re all brothers,” Hattab responded.

      “Straight away you can see what kind of a positive-thinking guy he was,” Levi said. “He was always smiling, he was always helping others.”

      After he returned to France, he told Levi in a Facebook message, “now I am completely in love with Israel.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Most people are unable to hold two unrelated thoughts in their minds simultaneously. But because of my advanced mind training – including 6 years of meditation in a cave high in the Himalayas with nothing but a single roll of Brawny Man paper towels for warmth – I can hold THREE unrelated thoughs at the same time:

      The attacks in Paris were barbaric, the human rights situation in Israel is barbaric, no ones barbarism justifies anyone else’s. Furtheremore, any one who plays barbarism can unilaterally withdraw without penalty.

      Haaretz ran their own provocative cartoon…

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Have these people been arrested and charged?:

        ““Let the terrorists eliminate them,” wrote Daniella Peretz. “With God’s help, the journalists at Haaretz will be murdered just like in France,” wrote Miki Dahan. As Danit Hajaj put it, “They should die.” “Haaretz is where the terrorists should have gone,” wrote Riki Michael. “Death to traitors,” added Moshe Mehager. “I hope that terrorism reaches Haaretz as well,” wrote Tuval Shalom. “With God’s help, [there will be] a Hamas operation that kills all of you, like the journalists in France,” wrote Ruti Hevroni.”

        Reply to Comment
    3. BOOZ

      And BTW,I take this opportunity to :

      -express my appreciation to Lassana Bathilly, the kosher supermarket employee who saved the shoppers lives;

      -recall the memory of warrant officer Mohamed Ibn Zlaten (1st Paratroopers Transport Rgt) -may his memory be a blessing-who died at the hands of Merah.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Didn’t expect to sort of terrible news like this 🙁 .
      thanks for posting it out.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sh

      Possibly both versions of the burial arrangements are true and the bereaved rabbi has the choice. I hear from a Tunisian that relatives of Tunisians who die abroad have the option of bringing the body back to Tunisia for burial free of charge. This has something to do with Islam and might not apply to non-Muslims, or, if equality is respected there, it might include non-Muslims because there is no legal way not to do so.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bruce Gould

      There is a persistent misunderstanding in all these discussions that what we are doing is trying to determine which “side” is more moral, which “side” has the most dirt clinging to it. Personally, I stopped thinking that the conflict was about “Palestinians” and “Jews” a long time ago; it’s the SITUATION – the occupation, the theft of land, etc – which needs to be corrected. It isn’t neccessary to ascribe moral qualities to large groups of people at all.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Bar

      “before Zionism destabilized the regional ethnic balance”

      Does Goldman mean this is the narrative or that this is what actually happened? If it’s the former, sure, lying Arab leaders have been pushing this lie since there were 80,000 Jews in Mandatory Palestine. However, in the unlikely scenario where she meant it as fact, then that’s simply funny.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        She means it like it actually happened. Because this is what actually happened. I know you don’t have a good grasp of reality or history for that matter, but try to read some history books. By actual historians.

        As she stated, of course this is not the only reason for the destabilization:
        “This is not an inaccurate narrative, but it is somewhat over-simplified.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          Well, since I don’t know my history and you obviously do, perhaps you can enlighten me? Why don’t you provide figures alongside critical historical dates to demonstrate that “Zionism destabilized the regional ethnic balance.” I’m eager to learn.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Ruth

      What qualifies Lisa to write this article? Her high school knowledge of Canadian French? She has no clue how Jews lived in Tunisia or elsewhere in the Arab world. So she read a few novels and a couple of articles and that makes her an expert? Very shallow. I doubt Yoav was a Tunisian patriot. You do what you have to do when you are a Jew in an Arab country with a Jewish community of 1500 people.
      972 could not find anyone among the thousands of French speaking people in Israel to comment on the video?

      Reply to Comment
      • C.D. DeVille

        Ruth, I appreciate your contributing! I don’t speak French, but your comments are insightful.

        Reply to Comment
    9. Victor Arajs

      Comment deleted.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        I think I’ve figured out who “Victor
        Arajs” is. LoL! My hypothesis: It’s none other than crazy Baruch Gottesman. The “Heinrich Böll” obsessive. Up above on this page Gottesman refers to “Judith Butler’s Soldiers.”



        “Victor” refers to “Famed Queer Studies professor Judith Butler of UC Berkeley,” which by itself was a dead giveaway that “Victor” is a masquerading rightist bent on pushing the “they are just nazies who only want to destroy us” meme. Anyway, it’s as good a hypothesis as any. It fits. For Gottesman “they” seems to be some fusion of “the global left” and “the Arabs.”

        Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Well, whatever the real case, you sure sound just like Gottesman, you undercover “Latvian and Palestinian patriot.” With an obsession with Judith Butler! LOL! The salient characteristic of the right here is mendaciousness IMHO. It’s the strongest signal in the noise.

            Reply to Comment
          • C.C. DeVille

            Look like little Nancy Drew here owes Baruch an apology.

            It really is detestable to accuse a Jew of pretending to be named after a Nazi responsible for the death of thousands of Jews.

            I do agree that Victor is filth however. Just Arab filth like I susoected earlier.

            Reply to Comment
          • Nancy Drew

            Thank you to my huge fan, C.C. On pages 99-117 I discuss Latvian-Palestinian patriots and their connection to Queer Studies. It’s a burgeoning area of research. It ought to interest you deeply:


            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Bravo, Ms. Goldman. Good riddance.

            Reply to Comment
      • Joel


        Reply to Comment
    10. C.C. DeVille

      I am sure that this was written with the intent of smearing Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish Community.
      The fact that this is not obvious shows what a desperate attempt our ms. Goldman engaged in

      This stuff is ponderous; the material of airheads.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Actually, Ms. Goldman’s piece exudes a quiet dignity and grace. Appropriate to the terrible death of this young man Yoav. And his father, Rabbi Hattab, exudes strength and dignity and grace. Peace be upon him.

        “There is a dim glimmering of light yet unput out in men. Let them walk, let them walk, that the darkness overtake them not.”
        -Augustine of Hippo

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Apologies. That should read:
          Actually, Ms. Goldman’s piece exudes a quiet dignity and grace. Appropriate to the terrible death of this young man Yoav. Peace be upon him. And his father, Rabbi Hattab, exudes strength and dignity and grace.

          Reply to Comment
          • C.C. DeVille

            Your takeaway is not necessarily incompatible with mine.

            Reply to Comment
    11. Sahra

      Apparently his aunt, then age14, was killed in the 1985 attack on the main synagogue in Tunis by the PLO. Her mother (Yoav’s grandmother) made aliya to Israel in 2000. Yoav was proud of the free Tunisian elections and voted in them, but still hoped to make aliya together with the remainder of his family. Who can blame him?

      Reply to Comment
      • Mrav

        I want to say that this record should include a thing Sahra does not say. This was not mindless implacabile Arab violence against Jews. It was a cycle of violence. This attack on the synagogue was made by a man, his own brother killed in Israeli bombing. You can see here.


        The synagogue attack in 1985 came about a week after Israel had bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunisia as part of Operation Wooden Leg. The bombing led the Jewish community of Tunisia to fear they would suffer retribution attacks. After a quiet yet tense week – which included insults and isolated incidents of stone throwing at Jewish stores – the shooting attack occurred at the Tunisian synagogue. ~~~~~~ After the incident, it was revealed that the officer who had opened fire on the synagogue was the brother of one of those killed in the Israeli bombing against the PLO headquarters in Tunisia.

        Reply to Comment
      • Baladi Akka 1948

        Yeah, if you could blame things on the PLO why not ! Yoav’s maternal aunt, and not his grand-mother was killed in Djerba, and not in Tunis, by a Tunisian police officer and not by the PLO.
        It was a retaliation for the Israeli bombing of the PLO head-quarters in Tunis on Oct 1st 1985 killing at least 70 people among them this Tunisian policeman’s brother. This is of cource no excuse for gunning down three innocent Tunisian citizens, just beacuse they happened to be Jewish like the killers in Tunis.

        Reply to Comment
    12. bob cobb

      greetings from tasmania……google figbat oswald and see if you can work it out.

      Reply to Comment
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