Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cairo holds tribute to journalist Eric Rouleau

The American University of Cairo is today holding a tribute to Eric Rouleau, the prominent Egyptian-born journalist and diplomat. Interestingly, this article in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs about Rouleau by the anti-Zionist Alain Gresh (the natural son of the Jewish Communist Henri Curiel) is rather full of contradictions.  He implies it  is  acceptable  to be a francophile; emigration to the ex-colonial France is to 'the real promised land'.  (In fact only 10, 000 Egyptian Jews fled to France, fewer than to Israel and to Brazil). It is acceptable to have Marxist leanings. The only thing that Gresh still holds beyond the pale is that 'narrow nationalism' - Zionism.  Yet Gresh admits that Egypt was once tolerant of Zionism, supported by Jews who gave alms without intending  to make aliya themselves. Gresh  blames the Arab-Israeli conflict - not the intolerant reaction to it resulting in Egypt's scapegoating of non-Muslims - for the antisemitism which resulted in the expulsion of Jews like Rouleau. 

Eric Rouleau, born Elie Raffoul in Cairo in 1926 , died in February 2015.(Photo: Al-Tanany publishing house )

"Elie Raffoul was not only Egyptian, francophone and francophile, but he was also Jewish. Yet how can one define a Jew? Anti-Semites tried in vain by inventing a race whose people they often reduced to religion. Israel has failed, too, in that regard. After all, how can one use the same term to describe believers and non-believers and people claiming to have a more or less vague Jewish culture, and others who reject it? Is a person Jewish by choice or is it the anti-Semite who makes the Jew, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it?

" Just like many young people, Rouleau faced an adolescent crisis and decided to become a rabbi, but he soon quit and lost his faith. Although the world of Talmudic studies definitely had a lot to lose, the field of journalism won considerably. Now turned atheist, Élie did not abandon his Jewish roots, but tried to understand their meaning. At the time, incredible as it might seem, Zionists enjoyed complete freedom of action in Egypt. The Jewish Agency was well-off in Cairo and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, the Jewish National Fund, established in 1901 and destined to develop land for Jewish settlement in Palestine, welcomed grants in synagogues. "Most often, the donors had no political incentive and only wanted to give alms," Rouleau recalled. Rouleau later turned to the Hashomer Hatzair movement, the "Youth Guard," an extreme leftist Zionist movement.

"The hundreds of adolescents who joined the movement participated in sports competitions, took Jewish history classes, and engaged in philosophical debates where the labor movement ideologists were prominently present," he said. Rouleau learned about Marxist thought, but he left the movement a year later, as his beliefs collided with its narrow nationalism and indifference to the conflicts raging in Egypt, even those against the colonial power. "I could not believe that all Egyptians were anti-Semitic, and I had no intention to emigrate," he said.

"Egypt's Jews felt they were Egyptian, and the Zionist siren song never bewitched them. In his book Un homme à part that was dedicated to Henri Curiel, Gilles Perrault beautifully wrote, "Apart from the Zionist minority, no one felt the need for a Jewish state or the urge to chant “L'an prochain à Jérusalem” when it was enough to take the 9:45 a.m. train to get there.

"The Arab-Israeli conflict made the lives of Egyptian Jews impossible. They were the victims of waves of judeophobia in the Arab World, and of the Israeli government's attempts to use them as fifth column. As a result, many were forced to emigrate to France, the real Promised Land. Nowadays, criticism of Zionism is often equated to hidden anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, during the first half of the twentieth century, the majority of Jews around the world were apathetic if not hostile to the Zionist project. Rouleau took himself for an Egyptian, and he was united with his compatriots beyond religion.

Read article in full 

My Egyptian-Jewish childhood

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