Friday, December 18, 2009

Jews 'not targeted for their faith' in Algerian war

This interesting post at the Algerian Review quotes two letters sent by the Algerian liberation movement, the FLN, to the Jewish community, as evidence that Jews were not targeted for their religion. It was as French nationals that the Jews were assumed to be complicit with the pieds noirs. My comment follows: (with thanks: Sacha G.)

"Many suspected Algerian Muslims, Jews and Christians were targeted during the mob killings. Some Jews and Christians continued to live in the infant state even though the majority left. I do not believe that the FLN and the revolution had an inherently racist or xenophobic agenda. While digging through history books, specifically Mohamed Harbi’s La Guerre d’AlgĂ©rie, published in 2004, I came through a letter from the FLN written to the Jewish community in 1962. The FLN tried to engage the Jewish community and appealed to them to side with the Algerian revolution. The FLN was sympathetic to the plight that the Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis and Vichy’s government. It aknowledges the help of many Jews that were in the cause of the revolution. (...)

From the translation of the first letter (1956) (all emphasis is mine):

The National Liberation Front, which has led the anti-colonialist revolution for the past two years, feels that the moment has arrived when every Algerian of Israelite origin, in light of his own experience, must without any ambiguity choose sides in this great historic battle. The FLN, authentic and exclusive representative of the Algerian people, considers it its obligation to directly address the Israelite community and to ask it to solemnly affirm its membership in the Algerian nation. This choice clearly affirmed, it will dissipate all misunderstandings and extirpate the seeds of hatred maintained by French colonialism. It will also contribute to recreating Algerian fraternity, broken by the arrival of French colonialism.[...]

Without going too far back in history, it seems useful to us to recall the time when the Jews, held in less consideration than animals, didn’t even have the right to inter their dead, the latter being secretly buried during the night wherever this could be done, due to the absolute prohibition against the Jews having any cemeteries. At precisely this period Algeria was the refuge and land of freedom for the Israelites who fled the inhuman persecutions of the Inquisition. Precisely during this period the Israelite community was proud to offer its Algerian fatherland not only poets, but consuls and ministers.

It is because the FLN considers the Algerian Israelites the sons of our Fatherland that it hopes that the leaders of the Jewish community will have the wisdom to contribute to the building of a free and truly fraternal Algeria…

And from the second letter (1962):

The Algerian problem is at a decisive stage. We want to address this appeal to you, in the face of the hysterical and racist clamor of the fascists who claim to speak in your name, declaring that you are French and that you are all participants in the criminal acts of the backwards colonialists. You know full well that this is both a gratuitous declaration and a policy of mystification that should fool know [sic] one, and even less so you, who are Algerians.[...]

…Recently, in Oran, demonstrations provoked by young hotheads in the Israelite neighborhood took place, followed by fires set in stores belonging to Muslims. These acts are the clearest illustration of how some of you attempt to thoughtlessly align yourselves with the racial policies of the ultras. Will you today make yourselves the accomplices of the backwards colonialists by rising up against your Algerian brothers of Muslim origin?…[...]

Israelite compatriots, many Israelites are active in our ranks. Some among them were interned, others are still in prison for their acts in service to the Algerian cause. Algeria’s independence is near; independent Algeria will need you and tomorrow you will need it, for it is your country. Your Muslim brothers honestly and loyally offer you their hand for solidarity coming from your direction. It is your duty to answer.

These letters are not new, I am not trying to break new ground or rewrite history. They were just found by a curious mind digging back through the history of his country. These letters do not excuse the treatment that Jews or anyone endured after the revolution, what they show is that the Jews were not targeted because of their religion, they just shared the fate that anyone that was suspected of complicity and treason with the French did.

Read post in full

My comment:

During the Algerian war the Jews tried to maintain a studied neutrality: at this time conciliatory letters were also written by the CJAES, the representative body for Algerian Jewry, declaring that Jews were against violence of any kind. Although some Jews did support the FLN, many were murdered by them, according to Les juifs d'Algerie, deux mille ans d'histoire by Ayoum and Cohen. The turning point came on 12 December 1960 when the Great synagogue of Algiers was ransacked and 'Death to the Jews', together with swaztikas, scrawled on the walls. The desecration of the Jewish cemetery at Oran soon followed, the stabbing of the hairdresser Choukroun and confrontations between Jews and Muslims. From then on, it is hard to argue that the Jews were not targeted qua Jews.

Although the new Algerian leader Ben Bella made an appeal to the Jews to stay on, the Jews had little option but to join the mass evacuation from Algeria of the French pieds noirs. In March 1963, Algeria passed its nationality code, effectively excluding any citizen who was not a Muslim by birth.

More on the Algerian Jewish community here


algerianreview said...

Allow me to echo the response that I posted as a comment in the blog:

I don't really grasp what you are disagreeing with. The fact that a lot of Jews had to flee is a given, and they had to do along with anyone who've been suspected of collaborating with the French, in cruel terms. It is well documented, by Stora and many others that many people of Jewish Origin did fight against the Algerian revolutionists. An unfortunate fact, and they are by no means alone in this, as Arabs/Muslims and Christians did the same and shared the same fate. The end of the war and the way it was influenced by L'OAS resulted in a chaos that sparred no one, regardless of race or religion."

bataween said...

And this was my comment on your blog:
A few Jews did fight against the revolutionists but it is wrong to say ‘many’. The majority of Jews were neutral. This being so, you would have thought it was enough to expel the collaborators themselves, not the entire community of 130,000. Once the Great Synagogue was wrecked that was a clear sign that all Jews were a legitimate target for violence, and despite Ben Bella’s pleas, they understood that they had no future in the new Algeria. Simply holding French citizenship was enough to condemn them in the eyes of the revolutionists.
There was a precedent for this in Egypt where 25,000 Jews were expelled by Nasser in 1956 – and they had done even less to deserve their fate than the Jews of Algeria.

You might be interested to learn that even those who supported the FLN like this Jew and his family
ended up being driven out of Algeria by antisemitism.

The link you post seems to show that the role of the Mossad agents was to equip the Jews of Constantine for self-defence. But to extrapolate from this that the Mossad was actively fighting the FLN on the side of the OAS seems a bit of a stretch.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Maybe algerianreview could acknowledge that Jews were being oppressed in Algeria long before the French conquest of 1830. After all, shari`ah applied in Algeria as in other Muslim-ruled lands, although I understand that the situation was worse for Jews in Morocco next door to Algeria.

Mr Review seems to labor under the misconception that the Jews of Algeria owed some sort of loyalty to the Arab-Muslims there, which he thinks that the Jews betrayed. However, since the Jews were oppressed and humiliated there under Muslim rule, what did they owe their overlords??

I won't deny that many Jews welcomed the French conquest which greatly improved conditions for them. What would you expect when the Jews had been so long oppressed? And then the Jews accepted, even welcomed, the Cremieux Decree instead of rejecting it as the Muslims did. Again, what loyalty did the Jews owe the Muslims??

I do note that many of the French and other European settlers there opposed the Cremieux Decree because they wanted Jews to stay in an inferior status. In other words, the Jews were in between two not too friendly groups, although no doubt the Jews also had some friends among both groups.

Since Bataween mentioned Constantine, let's recall that there was a pogrom there in 1934 in which the French authorities encouraged the Arab-Muslims to attack the Jews. That is, both the French and the Arabs were inimical to Jews in Algeria. Then what about the pogrom in Algiers while Dreyfus was on trial in Paris?? From what I understand, both Arabs and Europeans joined together in that pogrom.

Anonymous said...

Bataween: comment as given in blog

The Mossad trained and actively armed residents who fought with the OAS against the FLN. Short of sending troops, that fits the definition of “actively”.

You seem to confuse “many” with the “majority of”. Many is established by more than a handful. You seem to be disputing “majority of”, which I did not claim.

It is quite established that “many” did. A tenable argument might be whether these did it because they felt oppressed and had to strike back or because they felt more Pied-Noirds than Algerian and thus aligned themselves with the European terrorist networks.

I do not think connecting the politics of Egypt to that of the Algerian revolution pre July 1962 and the Ben Bella presidency is a sensible argument.

Ultimately, a lot of innocent people died regardless of religion or race. A few Muslim fighters were killed in my grand parents village to the later horror of those who returned from the maquis: the killed were fighting in disguise.

The example you gave is quite sad – I feel for the guy. Post independence emotions ran high because of the conflict in the ME and that unfortunately led to horrible moments.

algerianreview said...

(last comment was mine)

Eliyahu: you can call me Houwari.

The concepts of loyalty and nationality are not mutually exclusive as you suggest. I believe that you should be loyal to the country that you feel you belong to.

For your vitriol about the state of Jews in Algeria pre and post 1930, I offer two responses, the first is a story from Benjamin Potter as given in 1961:

I have known Algeria since before World War II, and my contacts there have been and still are both business and social. . . . (Let me note here that I was for many years the correspondent in France for the New Leader.). . . I would say that there is no more anti-Semitism in France and Algeria, probably much less, than here in the United States. And just as anti-Jewish feeling knows no political boundaries in our country, so it does not elsewhere. If Mr. Alan or Mr. Barry knew Paris before World War II, they may have heard some highly-placed partisans of the Paul-Faurist faction of the SFIO refer slurringly to the “Bretons”—“pour ne pas dire ‘des juifs,’” as a Paul-Faurist friend explained to me. . . .

Now for the other side of the coin. In June 1953, in the region of Oran, well before the start of the rebellion, I dined as the guest of three businessmen, a Moslem, a Jew, and a Catholic, three close friends from early childhood, devout followers of their particular religions, each of whom had a natural respect for the belief of the others. In the restaurant, the Moslem specified he wanted no hors d'oeuvres made from pork and no wine . . .; the Jew ruled out pork for himself; and the Catholic, as it was a Friday, would have no meat at all. . . . They saw nothing strange in all of this, nor did the waiter. . . .

And the second is the fact that France, to invade Algeria in 1930, used as an excuse the Bey's response as he tried to uphold the rights of two Jewish Algerian merchants.

Independent Observer said...

Interesting how Arabs always have excuses (regardless of contry) as to why
- their oppression of Jews was justified
- the fleeing Jewish minority was always at fault
- Arab society was never at faut
- Arab anti-Semitism is always the Jews' fault
- Jewish flight to France and Israel couldn't possibly say anything about dhimmitude conditions in Algeria
etc etc

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

yes I know that the immediate provocation that France used to justify the invasion of Algeria in 1830 had to do with a debt owed to Algerian Jewish merchants for the purchase of wheat during the Napoleonic wars. So the Bey wanted to help collect a debt owed to two Jews from whom, if paid by the French, he would likely have received a nice commission for his efforts. But he went too far when he whisked the French envoy's face with his fly whisk [in the version that I know].

Indeed, some Jews there were prosperous and had ties to the rulers. But many were poor and very oppressed up to 1830 [not "1930"].

Now, in 1962, how could any sizable group of Jews have stayed in Algeria, a country bubbling over with Arab nationalist enthusiasm, hatred of Israel, and Muslim triumphalism?? It was Ahmed Ben Bella, one of the early post-1962 rulers who argued that Islam throughout the world could not last if Israel survived, because the Muslims could not contain themselves or maintain their self-respect as long as the despised Jews had a state. [He didn't say despised, but that was his meaning.]
Now, Houwari, you tell me. Could the Jews have stayed there and lived in such an atmosphere??

By the way, I recommend reading the books of Abdel-Razek Abdel-Kader, such as Le Conflit judeo-arabe, for the view on Israel of a scion of the Algerian leader who fought the French.

Anonymous said...

Your answer lies with the Arabist agenda promoted by the likes of Ben Bella, Boumediene, Bouteflika (the current president) and the rest of the clique loyal to Nasser. These mercenaries were stationed in the western borders and were waiting for their chance to grab power and install an Arab dictatorship a la other dictatorships that promoted absolute power, imposing Arabisation and of course demonising the Jewish people and support for that fat Arab terrorist Arafat.
Egyptian and Palestinian teachers and preachers flooded Algeria in the 1970's and 1980's to continue the rot and bring up a new generation of Islamic fundamentalists and brainwashed pan-Arabists and Baathist who share one thing in common: Hating Jews, All Jews and not just the democratic state of Israel as they have you believe. Part of their agenda is obviously demonising the Jewish people during the Algerian war...

A Berber nationalist.

sammish said...


I am not sure if your entry was an apologist for the Jews of Algeria or a defenvise toward the aim of defending the Algerian revolution. By digging some few letters showing how algerian revolutionaries extended their hands to their jewish friends means nothing. These are the exception to the rule. To me this is personal, very personal because I was born in Algeria but had to leave with a blanket on my hands at the age of 7. People were killing innocent jews whimsically whenever they had a chance. My family was told that everythig was alright and what we saw was destruction and usurpation of property, murder and in some case rape (city of Oran). Nobody wanted to stop this.

The problem is that in the upper echelon of the FLN, there was an anti-jewish agenda and anti-zionist program. It is well documented, I am not sure what these letters you have dug up are going to change the fact that the dictatorship of newly military state was bound to be anti-jewish just like their Egyptian experience. To me these letters only show the potential that COULD have been attained in multi-ethnic independent Algeria. The rest is rubbish wishful thinking. You must have heard the phrase targeting the Algerian jewish population : “La valise ou la mort” . This was the slogan of the new republic. It was the OFFICIAL policy of the FLN and was dictaded in meetings of your glorious independence movement, and people in the streets acted upon it, and the leaders looked on. It was senseless to encite murders and rapes, when the Jews were only trying even willing to leave and let you run the country. They did not even ask for nothing else….