Throughout my life and my Communication and Media studies, I have learned that the human being prioritizes things, and that after a long day of work, he is -kind of- desensitized to what happens far from him in terms of distance and time. Who cares about the conflict of two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century, except the people who died because of it?
I have heard stories about Hitler, the Holocaust, I have read some passages of “The Night”, I have bought “Anne Frank’s diaries” and I have seen the world around me hating Israel. But I, personally, have never felt a real depth to that.
I grew up and I understood that, I couldn’t be who I want to be, if I keep on endorsing someone else judgements. I couldn’t be who I want to be, without reaching out to what is not my comfort zone.
Few years ago, I was having some leisure time in front of the TV and stumbled upon an algerian documentary named “El Gusto” ( Good mood , in algerian). It was the story of algerian jews and muslims, singing and playing instruments together, in the first algerian orchestra. It was in 1920. What now ? Where are the jews ? Our jews. Jews who are probably more algerian that I will ever be.
I started being more aware. In Girona, I would walk slowly in the jewish hoods and try to imagine their lifestyle.
I took my interest on a whole other level once I enrolled in this course, Zionism and Modern Judaism. It feels amazing to learn without being ashamed of what you are learning. Jews suffered, and a lot of people are responsible for that.
I write this paper, with the best objectivity I can give, with the best critical thinking I possess and with the excitement to formulate, or have at least an insight of what is it to be a jew in Algeria. I hope that, Algerian youth, will also be able to free themselves from what they are taught, and fully face the truth.
We sing, we live and we die for our countries, whereas we were here before any country was here. No identity, citizenship or nationality should keep you afar from the truth.
In 1962, Algeria was on the verge of gaining its independence from the French colonization that lasted 132 years. The idea that an independent Algeria would join the Arab group – with its political demands and motives, especially concerning fighting Israel- , made the Algerian Jews, residents of North Africa for more than 2000 years, apprehend their future. Despite all the Algerian leaders who tried to reassure the Algerian Jews, many of them left the country. The 100.000 jews that were once in Algeria, went to France, and in some cases, Israel.
Based on five primary sources (newspaper articles from New York Times and Washington Post, written in 1962) , this paper tries to contextualize the fear of the jews, their links to Israel as well as the Algerian rhetoric under the Arab pressure. Primary documents are not necessarily accurate. However they do reflect the attitudes, beliefs, values anxieties and assumptions of people concerned by the topic. They offer insight into the moral and material realities of the situation they portray.
“Algerian Jews view future with apprehension”, Washington Post, April, 30, 1962, page 24. The article is about a report made by The Middle East News Agency concerning Ahmed Ben Bella, vice president of the provisional government of the Algerian Republic, who pledged in Cairo that Algeria would gather and send soldiers to free the Arabs of Palestine -to fight Israel-. According to the Washington Post’s article, this report caused consternation among Ben Bella’s colleagues, who so far sounded liberal about Judaism, and intensified the fears of Algerian Jews. The article also said that, two weeks later, a denial of the the report has been issued, it was followed by Ben Bella giving an interview to the FLN’s captive Algeria Press Agency speaking of ” a future open to Algerians of all origins”. The article emphasized that , what this ability to discard the past may imply when applied to future fulfillment of present policies is today worrying Algerian Jews. The denial of Ben Bella’s words was received with some skepticism partly because it seemed as a denial of the wording of the Middle East News Agency, not the content. It is also quite possible that Ben Bella never said the words attributed to him. As the article said, the Middle East News Agency has been accused before of putting phrases in the mouths of those it quotes. However, in this case the Middle East News Agency could have considered itself reasonably safe, for whether or not Ben Bella promised Algerian troops to march against Israel, because it was difficult for him in the Arab context to deny it: Many unsubtle hearers would think that Ben Bella refused to act against Israel, and that would grant him an unpopular position in many Moslem communities. What was significant for Jews is that Moslem opinion is such that a declaration of war against Judaism is hailed while an expression of peaceful intentions toward Jewish communities can be politically damaging. The article reiterates that, despite the many reassuring statements made by Algerian leaders to Jews, their fears have some justification. Some of the persons who feel publicly obliged to support a benevolent attitude to the Jews said that “After all, a large number of the Jews have cooperated with the OAS (Secret Army Organization)”. This attitude may result from OAS efforts that pits the Moslem and Jewish communities against each other. The article ends with an interview with, Michel Salomon, editor of the jewish monthly the Ark :” I tell you that even if the FLN is made up entirely of the most open minded thinkers possible, but if, as is predictable, an Arab Algeria is linked to the Arab group, with its demands, its virulence, its aggressiveness, I would not stake much on the safety of the property of the skins of Algerian Jews.”
This first source, is interesting on many levels. First of all, it is said at the beginning that Ahmed Ben Bella, pledged that he would fight Israel, when he was in Cairo. Cairo which is the capital city of Egypt, one of the most famous country of the Arab group and a typical example of the Pan-Arabism ideology that evolved in the twentieth century with figures such as Gamal Abdel Nasser. And this raises , due to its complexity and role especially in this situation, an important question : who sets the standards that a country should fulfill to be considered an Arab state ? When one opens the history book taught in Egyptian schools, one will find a chapter about the Israeli-Arab conflict. There is a paragraph about 1948 (date of the establishment of the state of Israel) and then 1967 (the six days war between Israel and Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria). The History book, doesn’t discuss any other actions undertaken by other nation. But Algeria, considers itself as Arab. A famous patriotic song starts by ” Chaab Al-djazairi Moslem w-ila el-ourouba yantasib”, that can be translated to “Algeria is a Moslem state and relates to the Arab identity”. However, at this point of time, it is too early to think about that, it is only 1962.
The previous point, shows a bigger problem of rhetoric: is it an Israeli-Palestinian conflict ? or is it an Israeli-Arab conflict ? . If one says that it is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict then it implies that the conflict is between two political entities, and that would mean that modern day Israel is the result of political Zionism, commonly represented by Theodor Herzl. But then, one may ask : Are Algerians, and Arabs in general, aware of the other Zionist branches ? Would the conflict be less violent if Algerians and Arabs knew about other branches of Zionism ? Did Algerians and Arabs considered the fact that , in Israel, some people would opt for a peaceful cohabitation ? (And to another extent why did Political Zionism prevail ? But this last question is too big for the picture we are trying to capture ). No answer can be fully correct or wrong, but one should consider the fact that France isolated Algeria, from the international scene for so many years, 132 years to be more specific.
On the other hand, if one thinks that it is an Israeli-Arab conflict then it implies that Israel is a “state of jews” and not ” a state for jews”. In addition calling it an Israeli- Arab conflict is giving the chance to Israel to deny the existence of Palestine or to claim that the Arabs of this territory, can always go elsewhere.
In both cases, one is overlooking the different strands of the Zionism movement that constitute the state of Israel. Moreover, the report said that Ben Bella’s colleagues were more or less liberal when it comes to Judaism. There is here a sense of generalization that shouldn’t occur between Judaism, Jews and Israel. Traditionally Jews by ethnicity are also Jews by religion (they are believed to be), but there a lot of jews that don’t endorse Judaism, and consequently a lot of Zionist were not religious at all, one should recall for example the critics that Ahad Ha’am holds against Theodor Herzl. So again, is Algeria going to fight Israel or Judaism? And isn’t fighting Judaism against Islamic principles ? principles that are so-embedded in the Arab states.
“Citizenship raises problems for Algerian Jews”, The Washington Post, May, 1st,1962, page 7. The article states that, the algerian Jews are not reassured by the failure of the Evian cease-fire accords to make any specific reference to the Israelite community. Juridically speaking, the jews should be covered by the guarantees offered French citizens, for Algerian Jews have been French by birth ever since the Cremieux Decree of 1870 conferred this nationality on them in gratitude for the services of North African troops in the Franco-Prussian War. Moslems were not converted by this decree because they asked to be exempted. Lumping jews with the French satisfies neither the Jews nor the Moslems. Many of the Jews in Algeria were there before Arabs. They do not look to Tel Aviv. They prefer France rather than Israel. The article adds that the FLN recognizes that the jews are autochthons. The Soummam declaration of 1956 which remains the official platform of the FLN addresses the Jews ” You, Jews are an integral part of the Algerian people”. The rebellion was a national revolution not a religious war. The article highlights that these are encouraging words for the Algerian Jew, but he is aware that they are uttered from the upper strata of Algerian where prejudices are weakest. He is not so sure that the leaders’ actions will be approved by the masses. Raoul Girardet of the Paris Institute of Political Studies said “I fear that the jew will be very soon the victim of pogrom. It will suffice for that that the government should find itself unable to solve economic problems.” The article reports that jewish population of Algeria includes small shopkeepers and artisans whose customers are chiefly the europeans who are expected to leave Algeria in large numbers, wrecking their businesses. ” The most the FLN wants to do to French of Algeria is to expel them, it doesn’t envisage their extermination. But the Arab world, to which the FLN is bound politically and militarily, envisages the total annihilation of Israel” said Michel Salomon. Not all observers see the jewish future in Algeria so darkly. Pierre Stibbe who writes frequently for France Observateur said ” progressive forces exist in Algeria, in all classes, in all circles, above racial differences. Believe me, the country will not let itself be talked out of its revolution”.
So the article presents the Cremieux decree as a gratitude to the service of north African troops in the franco-Prussian war, which means that the argument that the jews fought alongside great nations in time of war and thus deserve a state for them, used by zionist is somewhat legitimate. Also, the articles said that the upper strata gives encouraging words for the algerian jew, but he is not sure if the leaders’ actions will be approved by the masses. There is here a potential parallel with the situation in Europe: or how France that witnessed the enlightenment period, emancipated its jews and how other countries followed that and made it in laws and constitutions but the anti-semitism remained because there was a respect by ‘law’ not by ‘feeling’ , there was no real feeling of brotherhood.
Finally, the myth that jews are rich, often employed to justify anti-semitic violence from the poor classes of the society, is destroyed. Algerian Jews were shopkeepers and artisans and very few were actually wealthy.
But the most important point to mention and deducted from this article is that the FLN -better say Algeria- doesn’t want to exterminate its jews nor Israel. Algeria is dragged in this conflict because of the pressure imposed by the Arab world that aspires to the annihilation of Israel. Fresh young Algeria is swallowed into something it cannot control, something bigger : The Arab world.
“ Israeli pursue Algerian accord”, New York Times, July 9th 1962, page 1. Israel recognized Algerian independence. This announcement was the second gesture of goodwill to the new Arab country in two weeks. In fact, the article says that, on June 25, Foreign Minister Golda Meir offered technical assistance during a speech in the Knesset. The israeli efforts are part of a campaign to influence premier Benyoussef Ben Khedda to adopt an independent policy with regard to Israel instead of becoming involved automatically in the Arab states’ hostility to her. No friendly response was expected but there have been reports from Israeli correspondents in Algeria in which responsible leaders loyal to Mr. Ben Khedda were said to have stated that relations with Israel would be considered on the basis of Algeria’s social and economic interests. Also, the Government of Benyoussef Ben Khedda is believed to want to avoid taking part in the conflict between the Arab states and Israel.
So the main point in this article- related to the point previously discussed about the Arab power on Algeria- is the fact that Benyoussef Ben khedda was fearful of jeopardizing the development of Algeria if he showed cordiality to Israel. First of all internally, because Ahmed Ben Bella was sympathetic to the Arab states in their quarrel with Israel, but regionally as well, after all, Algeria benefitted from Egypt’s aid during the national revolution ( and another time, during the Sand’s war in 1963, when Morocco declared a war on Algeria, Egypt was the first to help).
“66% of Algeria’s Jews flee in last 6 months”, New York times, August 16, 1962, page 19. In fact, more than two thirds of the Jews of Algeria have fled that country in the past six months, according to a report released by the American Jewish committee. The article argues that In 1830, the ancient Jewish colony was virtually indistinguishable from the poverty-ridden cloak-wearing Arab and Berber majority. After centuries of domination by the Moslems, the arrival of europeans was seen as God-send by many of the Jews. With astonishing rapidity, the jews took on French characteristics of dress, speech and outlook so that France gave the Algerian Jews full french citizenship in 1870. The number of jews dropped from 130.000 in 1959 to 35.000 in 1962. It is also written in the article that the jews feel that the Moslem ” tends to identify all jews with Israel”.
Now, this article raises an important point that is worth exploring: it is now obvious, if not understandable, that there was a tension between Arabs and Jews in Algeria. But, were there any reports that portray a violent relationship between Berbers and Jews, even though, Berbers were in modern-day Algeria, way before Arabs ? Also, the cities that showed violence against jews -Oran, Algiers, Constantine-, were mostly inhabited by Arabs and not Berbers. Berbers and Jews were living together, before Arabs came to North Africa. It almost feels like the Arabs were the strangers and in a certain way imposed their domination on both Berbers and Jews. One can take the primitive guess that, Arabs being hostile to Jews, proves that the discrimination is specifically based on the semite race. So, just like Max Nordau pointed out years before, the discrimination against jews is racial. Which brings up the question : Are Algerian Arabs anti-semites or anti-Zionists ? or are they just generalizing both concepts as seen in the analysis of the first article.
The second point emphasized is how well the Jews were assimilated into the society with Arabs and Berbers and later on with French thus, like other western jews -contrary to Jews of Russia who suffered from pogroms, like Pinsker describes it- , they were not looking to Israel. In times of violence they went to France.
“Jews fear oppression in Algeria”, Washington Post, October 7, 1962, page 4. The article draws the first separation of Jews from the Moslem majority back to 1870 when the French government offered most of them citizenship. Some jews feel that further animosity has arisen since creation of the state of israel arrayed the Moslem states against it. According to the article, there is a widespread belief here that following the British, French and Israeli attack on suez in 1956, Israeli intelligence agents continued to work with French intelligence against the Algerian independence movement. A more serious factor in local feeling was the charge that jewish leaders played both sides in the violent clash between Arab revolutionaries and European terrorists fighting the independence movement. The article presented a spokesman of the israelite consistorial association who said that “he has never felt any anti jewish sentiment in Algeria” distinguishing between that and anti-Zionism. The spokesman cited the second world war experience of Algeria’s jews when they were threatened by Nazi persecution under vichy french government, he praised Ferhat Abbas, newly elected president of the algerian national assembly as a moslem leader of that period who defended jews against discrimination. The article concludes saying that Algeria is expected to follow the modern pattern of moslem states set by turkey in 1923 in which church and state will be rigidly separated and minority religions will be guaranteed protection.
The last article enumerates what sets Arabs and jews against each other. It started from the french citizenship given to the jews, then the establishment of Israel and finally the fact that jews were playing on both sides of the conflict. But more importantly, this last article is an eye opener: if we carefully read the last article, it seems like the Arabs of Algeria were not Anti-Zionist, they were not against the ideology promoting a state for Jews and that grew more often than not as a colonizer. In fact, and merely, Arabs of Algeria seem like Anti-semitic, and this hostility is fostered even more given the power of the Arab group within which Algeria takes part.
The history of Algerian jews is 2000 years long and deep. It cannot be grasped in the above few words. There are circumstances and actions that go beyond our modern analysis and knowledge and prevent us from fully understanding what happened. However, based on the sources presented, one can still claim that Algeria -as in people and FLN-, didn’t want to harm jews , they recognized them as autochtones and part of the Algerian people. The discrimination of Jews that happened in Algeria, was in fact fueled by French segregationist policies and OAS’ terrorist actions, but more importantly: the apocalyptic vision of the Arab world concerning Israel. It is urgent for the Arab world to revise how it operates.
Another point to note is that Algerian Jews were very assimilated to Algerians in general – Berbers and Arabs- , Rue Randon in Algiers was inhabited by Jews and Muslims ,and even after the violence and discrimination encountered, most of the jews went to France and not Israel. The “anti-semitism” of Algeria is nothing like the anti-semitism in Europe.
Finally, one could notice that Judaism and Zionism were wrongly misinterpreted as synonyms. Did the Zionist, before establishing Israel, took the time to address North African countries? Was the Zionism movement only a representation of Western jews like Ahad Ha’am said? Did they really care about the Jews in North Africa?