A book by the historian Benjamin Stora has been making waves lately among Jews of Algerian origin in France. One, Yves-Maxime Danan, a professor at the Sorbonne, pulls no punches in his criticism of 'Les trois exils - Juifs d'Algerie' in Guysen Israel News.
Stora claims that the Jews of Algeria were 'exiled' from their French nationality during the Vichy years; they experienced a real exile in 1962 when Algeria became independent. What Stora calls their 'exile from tradition' when they became French in 1830, however, was - says Danan - in fact a liberation.
" Almost overnight the French put a stop to the terrible Muslim apartheid which imposed since the 7th century the status of dhimmi on the Jews in a country which was theirs well before the Arab invasion. The Jews were so important in this country that a Jewish warrior queen, the Kahena, directed the Berber resistance after the death of the Christian King Koella, " professor Danan writes.
"After the Kahena was defeated, many Jews and Christians converted to Islam under pressure from the Muslim invader. Those who refused were reduced to dhimmi, second class citizens. Benjamin Stora glosses over the humiliation and oppression which were the order of the day for 11 centuries."
Being a dhimmi implied not being able to defend oneself from attack, and permanent submission to insult from any quarter. The billowing sleeves and open sandals they were forced to wear prevented the Jews from defending themselves and running away, the professor claims. Their testimony was worthless in a court of law. They could not leave Algiers without paying a hefty deposit. They could be burned alive for blasphemy.
Any Jew who broke any of the dhimmi rules was burned at the stake at Bab el-Oued. On this very site the French built the Grand Lycee Bugeaud.
On the eve of each janissary expedition - these were the elite troops of the Ottoman empire - there were pogroms. The French consul saved 200 Jews from one such massacre in Algiers in 1805. It was therefore to be expected that the Jews welcomed the French as their saviours.
Professor Danan accuses Stora of making the unsubstantiated claim that the Jews fought alongside the Muslims against the French at the battle for Constantine. The only evidence he could find was that Jews were assigned the task of collecting the dead on both sides. Stora claims that the Jews of Constantine had great love for their Bey Ahmed and their city. But this same Bey had had 17 young Jewish girls kidnapped and presented to the Dey of Algiers as a gift!
With the arrival of the French the Jews became full citizens, sent their children to French convent schools and even served in the French military. This did not stop them from working alongside the Muslims for equal rights.
Read the (strikingly illustrated) article in French here.