Sunday, February 24, 2008

Last Algerian Jews left as late as 1967

The vast majority of Algerian Jews left with the French in 1962 in the wake of the Algerian War, but Benaya BenHamou's family stayed on in Oran. They remained another five years until conditions were so unsafe that even their Muslim friends were advising them to leave. Benaya told his story to Point of No Return.

"It always stuns people when I tell them that not all Algerian Jews left when Algeria became independent.

My family sided with the Algerians in the late 1950s, when the FLN asked all Jews to choose (between the Algerians and the French). There were only about 1,000 Jews in Oran. My father was well-loved in the city. We thought that nothing would happen to us. But in 1965 Islamists spread rumours about Jewish spies working for the Mossad. At that time we realized that we had better leave the country. But it all happened so fast. I was 15, and all I wanted to do was see my other cousins and friends in France.

"At school I used to be bullied because of my Jewish origins. People would ask me explanations for the suffering of the Palestinians. Everybody in the neighbourhood knew we were Jewish. The synagogues and graveyards had been vandalized. In 1967, when war broke out in Israel, my father's Algerian friends advised him to leave the country before it was too late. That is how, in a rush, I left my beloved city of Oran. I never saw it again.

"I do not know any Jews still living in Algeria. Most emigrated to France. Some went to Morocco."

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About the Decret Cremieux:

Following the French conquest of Algeria, the Decret Cremieux offered French citizenship to Algerians - Muslims as well as Jews. The Muslims declined. Initially fewer than 5% of Jews accepted to become French citizens. Then it was imposed on them. Benaya believes that French citizenship not only weakened the Jews' ties to their religion, but caused tension with Muslim Algerians. (On the positive side, however, it enabled the Jews to escape the humiliations of dhimmitude, which historically placed the Jews last in the social pecking order.)

Scroll down to a post by Hubert Hannoun, setting the context for the Decret Cremieux on Zlabia, the Algerian Jews' website.

Benaya adds:

"When the French passed the Décret Crémieux in 1870 most Jews accepted French citizenship but some were reluctant. The Décret Crémieux sparked debate and soul-searching, especially among important families in Oran, Tlemcen and Constantine. Algerian Jews asked themselves whether the Jews would be better off under French law or whether tradition and religion would suffer under France's lay legislation.

"When the French saw that very few Jews were interested they went even further. They didn't allow Algerian Jews to decide for themselves. Anyone who was born Jewish automatically became French. The other Algerians did not benefit from that law - if they wanted to become French they could, but they did not want to. (And neither did the Jews at the beginning). So the history of Algerian Jews is very complex: they became French, and they threw in their lot with the French against the Arabs. Than in 1940 they lost their citizenship. So they had to face French antisemitism on one side, and the Arabs' anger (because they felt betrayed) on the other. We were trapped!

"It was a kind of a trap, for two reasons.

"First, most French in Algeria were antisemites. There even was an 'anti-Jewish' party. In the 1940s the French betrayed the Jews by stripping them of their citizenship under Vichy law. The Jews were caught between two stools: most Arabs had not forgiven them for accepting French citizenship; the French spread antisemitism throughout Algeria.

"Secondly, the religious argument turned out to be true: As Algerian Jews arrived in France they became less religious, and lost their traditions from fear of being considered 'Arab'.

"I consider that if the French had not introduced the Décret Crémieux in the first place this would have never happened. Giving citizenship to the Jews and not to the Muslims aroused jealousy and tension between the two communities. The French translated antisemitic texts into Arabic during the 1940s. That is why Algerian Jews had to deny their origins.

"It is possible to hear a Moroccan Jew say he is proud to be Moroccan, or a Tunisian Jew say he is proud to be Tunisian. But an Algerian Jew can only be proud to be French, and nothing else."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I consider that if the French had not introduced the D�cret Cr�mieux in the first place this would have never happened. Giving citizenship to the Jews and not to the Muslims aroused jealousy and tension between the two communities. The French translated antisemitic texts into Arabic during the 1940s. That is why Algerian Jews had to deny their origins."

This is dangerous nonsense.

First, it is naive to think the Jews were ever real Algerians, for they were never equal but always subject to dhimmi-type discrimination and periodic violence and confiscations.

Second, it is also naive to think that, were it not for the D�cret Cr�mieux or Zionism, Jews could have continued un-molested in Algeria. If the Arab Algerians killed over 150.000 of each other in the 1990's, what would have been the fate of the Jews? Just as in every other country, Jews adapted and felt some affinity for the land of their resideence and birth (consistent with dina malchut dina), but as almost everywhere else would eventually have been treated as outsiders.

Third, it is absurd to mistake nostalgia for true stability.

Fourth, it is absurd for the world - including Jews - to think Jews well-treated or to say "They were welcome and happy" just because they weren't being killed. Why are Jews the only group termed well-treated simply if not killed? In Algeria, Jews were certainly not the equal of the Muslim Arab, neither in law nor in practice. Even now European Muslims complain bitterly of "Islamophobia" and insist "It's like the 1930's" for simply a fraction of the indignities experienced by Algerian Jews throughout history.

Last, gilding or whitewashing the Jewish experience in Muslim lands, or blaming it on factors (D�cret Cr�mieux, Zionism) external to the culture of the Muslim Arab majority, is dangerous because it feeds the Muslim Arab unwillingness to accept even one iota of repsonsibility for the sufferings of the Jews and Palestinians, nor to compromise even slightly.

bataween said...

I tend to agree with you. But Benaya's point is that the Jews were viewed not as dhimmis, but as uniquely privileged over the Muslims. This caused unnecessary friction and resentment with the Algerian Muslims. However,due to the pressures of decolonisation and anti-Zionism (even in the case of the Iraqi Jews who had Iraqi citizenship) the Jews would sooner or later have been placed in an untenable position, whether they were French citizens or not.

Anonymous said...

I hope you will distinguish between Algerian Kabyles (Berbers) and the Arabs who are actually colonisers of Algeria. There is no doubt that Arabs of Algeria are the biggest racists towards the Jewish people, and trust me I know them as a Kabyle, I lived in Algeria all my life. In fact, these people have been demonstrating during the Lebanon War against the terrorist Hezbollah to go as suicide bombers against innocent Jewish people. I was discusted, even little kids were brainwashed and they were cursing Jewish people and calling for Jihad.

On other hand, the Kabyles have absolutely no animosity towards the Jewish people or Israel. As a matter of fact, we sympathise with the plight of Israel against the terrorist of Hamas and the baasist Arafat. We have the same problem with these people here: suicide bombing, Jihad etc. They just worship terrorism, it is in their blood!! God Bless Israel to exterminate them, I hope you flattent Gaza and Lebanon in the next war, don't have no mercy with them. It's either you or them, there can never be peace with terrorists my friend!!!!

bataween said...

Dear Kabyle friend
This site has indeed documented the words of the Kabyle leader Ferhat Mehenni, the close relationship between Berbers and Jews and their common struggle for self-determination.

Anonymous said...

uniquely privileged over the Muslims

I understand your point. In the specific case the Jews were privileged, perhaps. But it seems curious that, in almost every country, anti-Semitism finds a reason to consider Jews "uniquely privileged" as a pretext for hatred. For example, Eastern European peasants hated the Jew because the Jew was ostensibly the tax and rent representative of the nobility - even though only a tiny number of Jews could have been needed for such a position. And French anti-Semites asked why Jews should be considered equal citizens while having the "privilege" of being different. There always seems to be some reason why the Jews could be viewed as "privileged". If one doesn't exist (no Loi Cremieux), it would be invented (Protocols).

bataween said...

The Jews were not the only targets of what Ruth Wisse in her book 'Jews and Power' calls 'middlemen' riots and prejudice: the Armenians and the Chinese were equally useful scapegoats.

Anonymous said...

True. But:

- The Chinese have never been in danger of total elimination.

- The Armenians have not been danger of total elimination - that is, the genocide by the Turks did not, unless I mis-understand, threaten Armenia itself. Nor outside Turkey were Armenians mercilessly persecuted in nearly every country on the planet.

In other words, I agree that certain modes of persecution re-appear - blaming the economically successful middleman. Indonesian slaughter of one half-million ethnic Chinese in 1965 is an archtypical example. So was the 1970's Vietnamese expulsion of middle-class Chinese, who ended up in Israel. And the Kenyan expulsion of south Asians.

But hatred of the middleman - that's just the mechanism, or the excuse. The Jews were different in that
- there was ALWAYS an excuse to persecute them
- they had NO place of refuge
- they had NO place where (unlike Chinese or Armenians) they could live among their people as a majority.

Perhaps the only equivalents to the Jews are the Roma.

In any case, excellent blog, Bataween !!! In geopolitics, the squeaky wheel gets greased, and I think Sephardim-Mizrahim should squeak as much as possible. Don't let the Muslim world off the hook. In recompense for 1400 years of dhimmitude, the Muslim world OWES the Sephardim-Mizrahim a defensible state (Israel), reparations, ...

In fact, one way of looking at the Israeli-Arab dispute is this: Israel's founding by Ashkenasim is just a blip. In truth, the Israeli-Arab dispute is really the ongoing struggle of the Muslim world's Jewish minority for self-determination, a struggle continued now that the Sephardim-Mizrahim have the means to express and defend themselves politically and militarily (Israel-IDF). In other words, one can look at Israel and its Ashkenasi "ruling class" as just God's willing tool for the Sephardim-Mizrahim to diplomatically and militarily force historic justice from the Muslims under whom Sephardim-Mizrahim endured dhimmitude for so long.

(I hope that idea contributes to Ashkenasi-Sephardi solidarity. That's how I meant it.)

Off-topic, maybe worth a thread: Darfurians open office in Israel:
http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article26192

bataween said...

THANKS, ANON, FOR YOUR KIND WORDS. Yes, we Mizrahim should be squeaking, but you Ashkenazim should squeak with us, for owing to 14 centuries of dhimmitude we do not squeak loud enough!

Anonymous said...

i respect the real algerian jews not ex algerian jew ;in my city annaba we have many of them they live in security and they love algeria very much unlike kabylian .
proud to be algerian imazighen.