Hajaji (Ahlem)

Ahlem Hajaji, “Elections within the deliberative bodies of the Jewish community in Tunis during the colonial period

The Jewish presence in Tunis is millenary. In medieval and Ottoman times, the Jews of Tunis had the status of subject (ri’âya) with privileges and duties that allowed them to freely organise their community according to their own traditions and their own institutions such as the mu’asasa al-Hibâr and the mu’asasa al-kâshîr. After the arrival of Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain, these institutions had to adapt. Jewish refugees wanted to have more independence and negotiated a new institutional framework, that was formalized in 1710 with an agreement between ‘Tunisian’ Jews and Jews Spanish and Portuguese backgrounds.

This agreement, however, did not ease all conflicts, and led the administration to look for a legal way to deal with the situation. After lengthy discussions and negotiations before the publication of the Fundamental Pact of 10 September 1857 and the constitution of 1861, as well as after the decree of 13 September 1876, a new institution, the ‘Fonds de secours et d’œuvres caritatives’, was created in the city of Tunis.

The aim of this chapter is to study the evolution of these local Jewish bodies after the French colonisation of the Ottoman province of Tunis in 1881. The idea is to follow in particular the charitable institutions of the community, that considerably increased in number and in economic proportion. The most important of these bodies was established on 30 August 1921. The objective of the chapter is to understand how this became ‘The Great Council of the Israeli Community of Tunis’. What was the functioning of the different councils within this Grand Council (The Council of the Sixty; The Council of the Twelve) which was renewed according to a very complex mode of election every four years.

The purpose of the chapter is also to follow and analyse deliberative and representative practices between the so-called ‘Grana’ Jews and the ‘Twansa’ who entered into an increasingly perceptible competition, especially around the various elections. On this basis, the chapter aims at reflecting on concepts and forms of possibly early or proto-democratic practices. It is also to analyse the evolution of these councils and their election and deliberation practices until 1955, in the context of new international and geopolitical stakes between. Who was elected and how? Who did they represent? What were the reactions of other segments of the Tunisian society? What were the effects and repercussions of the different so-called minority laws? Did these new laws allow a ‘reconciliation’ between local Tunisian Jews and those of perceived as of different origins?

This study relies on the consultation of inedite archival resources at the Archives nationales de Tunisie and at the Centre des archives diplomatiques de La Courneuve and at the archives of the Alliance israélite universelle in Paris.

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