Tunisia’s tourism minister on Friday denied Israeli tourists aboard a cruise ship who were prevented from entering the country had been discriminated against, saying there had been a procedural problem.
The Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line said on Monday a “small number” of Israeli passengers on one of its ships were not allowed to disembark in Tunis “because of a last-minute decision made by the Tunisian government”.
NCL said the next day that “in response to this discriminatory act, … it has cancelled all remaining calls to Tunisia and will not return”.
But Tourism Minister Amel Karboul told journalists that “as in all the countries in the world, for certain nationalities, there are obligatory visas or passes”.
“It is not linked to one nationality.”
She said Israelis are usually required to apply for a pass to enter Tunisia because of the absence of diplomatic ties between the countries.
“This time, the procedures were not followed in the necessary timeframe. They do not have the possibility to buy the visa” on arrival, Karboul said.
Tunisia’s key tourism sector has been in crisis since the uprising that ousted former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
But the issue of relations with Israel remains a taboo subject in Tunisia, as it is in other Arab states.
Karboul had faced questions during her nomination regarding past travel to Israel, which she visited for professional reasons.
Tunisia hosted the Palestine Liberation Organisation from its 1982 expulsion from Lebanon until it returned to the Israeli-occupied territories in the 1990s during the Oslo peace process.
In 1996, Tunisia and Israel opened interest sections in each other’s country, but Tunis froze relations in 2000 in protest at Israel’s response to the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada.
Karboul also said that the annual Jewish pilgrimage to Ghriba, Africa’s oldest synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, would take place from May 13 to May 18.
“We invite the Jewish community to come to Ghriba, like every year, to come in numbers,” she said.