'Daniel is a Hebrew prophet'

Tunisian leader claims ‘Zionist’ influence evident in naming of Storm Daniel

In latest antisemitic controversy, President Kais Saied says Zionist movement ‘has penetrated to attack the mind and thinking,’ also ascribes name of Abraham Accords to same reason

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Tunisian President Kais Saied at his office in Tunis, September 18, 2023. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Tunisian President Kais Saied at his office in Tunis, September 18, 2023. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Tunisian President Kais Saied made antisemitic remarks Monday evening, claiming that a secret “Zionist” influence was evident in the name given to Storm Daniel, the deadly storm that wreaked havoc earlier this month in Libya, Greece and elsewhere.

Storm Daniel, the deadliest Mediterranean storm ever recorded, killed over 3,000 people in Libya floods, with over 10,000 others still missing.

“Did they not wonder about the naming? Daniel is a Hebrew prophet,” Saied said in video remarks from his office carried by local media.

“The Zionist movement has penetrated to attack the mind and thinking, from Daniel to Abraham,” he added.

The last part was a reference to the Abraham Accords, the name for the series of US-brokered normalization agreements in recent years between Israel and Arab states, which Tunisia vehemently opposes.

Abraham is the biblical patriarch of the Abrahamic religions — including Islam, in which he is known as Ibrahim. It is a popular name in Israel and in the Arab world.

Daniel is also a popular Hebrew name today, and is common in the West as well.

Storm Daniel was named by Greece’s Hellenic National Meteorological Service.

A general view of the city of Derna is seen on September 12., 2023. Mediterranean storm Daniel caused devastating floods in Libya that broke dams and swept away entire neighborhoods in multiple coastal towns, the destruction appeared greatest in Derna city. (AP Photo/Jamal Alkomaty)

Saied has previously been embroiled in an antisemitism controversy.

In 2021, the Conference of European Rabbis charged that he had accused Jews of being responsible “for the instability of the country,” during a discussion with residents of Mnihla, a suburb of the capital Tunis, over protests concerning the economic situation in the country.

In a video uploaded to the Facebook page of the Presidency of Tunisia, Saied was heard denouncing the protests, which he said were the work of divisive forces. Then he added a phrase that sounded like “al yahood,” or “the Jews” in Arabic.

The president’s office at the time denied the allegations, denouncing the “propagation of false information” and saying it amounted to “calumny.”

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied speaks during a media conference at an EU Africa summit in Brussels, February 18, 2022. (Johanna Geron, Pool Photo via AP)

“The president mentioned no religion and there was no reasonable motive to deal with the question of religion in the context of protests,” the statement said.

Saied is a staunch opponent of relations with the Jewish state. Shortly before rising to power in 2019, he referred to normalization efforts as “high treason.” Last month, he said that the word “normalization” does not exist for him when it comes to Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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