October 3, 2019 — New York
AJC mourns the passing of Joseph Roger Bismuth, 92, the longtime leader of the Tunisian Jewish community and a towering figure in his country’s civic, political, and business spheres for more than half a century. He died in Tunis on Oct. 1.
Bismuth, a self-made man who endured the German occupation of Tunisia during World War II and rose to become one of his country’s most prominent industrialists, as well as one of the most influential Jewish voices in the Arab world, was president of the Communauté Juive de Tunisie, an AJC international partner since 2001. He was an informal advisor to generations of Tunisian political and business figures, and to successive presidents – including the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi, who was born three weeks after Bismuth and died on July 25.
Bismuth founded and headed Groupe Bismuth, comprising manufacturing, distribution, and servicing in the food, cosmetic, electrical, chemical, and other sectors, and established the Tunisian-American Chamber of Commerce. As a representative of the Tunisian employers’ federation, Bismuth was elected in 2005 as Senator in the Council of Advisors, one of two chambers of the country’s national parliament – and was the only Jewish legislator; at the time, he was the only elected Jewish lawmaker in the Arab world.
“Tunisia, the Arab world, and the Jewish people have lost a great man,” said Jason Isaacson, AJC’s Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer. “Roger Bismuth – wise, compassionate, accomplished, and universally respected – looked after his country’s small Jewish community with vision and sensitivity, and as a national figure helped guide Tunisia toward stable democracy. He was a patriot, a man of courage and culture, and a dear friend. He will be missed. May his memory be a blessing.”
AJC’s formal link with the Communauté Juive de Tunisie – which represents a Jewish population of some 1,500, mostly in Tunis and on the island of Djerba – is one of the leading global Jewish advocacy organization’s 37 international associations.