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Afghanistan: Taliban unwittingly gives interview to Israeli TV

Taliban spokesperson speaks to Israel's state broadcaster by phone from Qatar
Taliban spokesperson and negotiator Suhail Shaheen attends a press conference in Moscow on 9 July 2021 (AFP)

The Taliban have unwittingly given an interview to an Israeli media outlet, claiming that minorities - including Afghanistan's purportedly last remaining Jewish man - would not be persecuted under their rule.

Speaking to Israeli state broadcaster Kan by phone, Qatar-based Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said that members of minority groups would be safe in Afghanistan as fears continue to grow for them following the militant group's takeover. Many remain sceptical of the group's assurances.

“We identified ourselves as the Kan news channel, but we didn’t stress that we are an Israeli media outlet,” Roi Kais, the reporter from Kan who spoke to Shaheen, said in the report on the interview.

Admitting that he didn't know "the last Jew", the spokesperson for the Taliban said that there were "Sikhs and Hindus in the country" who were able to enjoy "religious freedom".

The Taliban have reportedly engaged in antisemitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric in the past.

From thousands to one

The Jewish presence in Afghanistan reportedly dates back to the 7th century. Though several thousand Jews - some say tens of thousands - lived in Afghanistan at the beginning of the 20th century, persecution by successive governments led virtually all of them to flee the country, leaving Zebulon Simentov as the community's sole representative by the mid-2000s.

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Simentov - who runs Kabul's only active synagogue - had originally said in April that he would be leaving Afghanistan to join his family in Israel.

However, according to Indian outlet WION, on Tuesday he said he would not be leaving.

"I will not leave my home. If I had left, there would have been no one to maintain the Synagogue," he said.

"I had the opportunity to leave for the US but I gave up."

After returning to Afghanistan in 1998, following several years in Turkmenistan, Simentov was imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban - who were then in control of the country - who believed him to be a spy.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.