The campus at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
With thanks: Silke; Eliyahu
A PhD history laureate named Sung Choi gave a lecture earlier this month at UCLA on the Jews of Algeria in the run-up to Algerian independence.
One wonders why she came to this subject in the first place: I suspect it was to prove that Jews were collaborators with the settler-coloniser French, who conquered Algeria in 1830. Her original intention had been to demonstrate Jewish participation in the right-wing pied noir pro-French OAS movement, until her research showed the Jews were also courted by the pro-independence FLN.
The Jews do not fit the fashionable paradigm of colonisers versus colonised. Miss Choi seems to have discovered quite recently - from her friend Susan - that Jews had been in Algeria since Roman times (in fact, as early as 600 BCE). What she hasn't grasped is that the Jews were indigenous, preceding the Arab Muslims in Algeria by several hundred years. As a 'Europeanist', Miss Choi betrays her ignorance of Jewish history when she says 'quite a lot of Berbers and Arabs were converts to Judaism'. Berbers may well have converted to Judaism at first, but the overwhelming majority of Jewish and Christian Berbers would have in turn been converted to Islam; and no Arabs converted to Judaism - on the contrary, thousands of Jews were lost to Islam.
She describes how these Jews clung to the French citizenship granted to them by the 1870 Cremieux Decree. She correctly identifies the trauma of being stripped of their French citizenship by the Vichy regime during WW2.
But missing from her analysis is the main reason why the Jews of Algeria held on to their French citizenship: it was not just a matter of acculturation - ceasing to speak or dress like Arabs. Citizenship allowed them to escape centuries of dhimmitude, in which Jews were humiliated as inferiors by the local Muslims.
The word 'dhimmi' does not so much as escape Miss Choi's lips. She doesn't seem to grasp that the Jews are the 'colonised' of the 'colonised' Muslims.
Moreover, it is not true to suggest that French citizenship was only offered to Jews. As late as 1865, it was also offered to the Muslims of Algeria. The latter refused it because it would mean submitting to French civil law.
Miss Choi does not effectively convey the soul-searching that went on in the Jewish community before 1870 : the rabbis lobbied against French citizenship, fearing inevitable assimilation and weakening of religious and cultural ties (this actually came to pass). At first only 5 percent of the Jews welcomed citizenship. The Decret Cremieux was eventually imposed on the community, mainly for domestic electoral reasons.
Of course, acquiring French citizenship exposed the Jews to antisemitic hostility from the pieds noirs on the one hand, and resentment from the Algerian Muslims on the other, who suddenly had fewer rights and lower status. The antisemitism culminated in the wartime statut de Vichy. French citizenship was only restored in 1943, a year after the Allies had liberated North Africa, because the Allies had wished to appease the Vichy officers who still ran the Algerian army.
Sung Choi does not give her audience much of an inkling of the dilemmas facing Algerian Jews with the outbreak of the Algerian war in the 1950s. The community tried to maintain neutrality between the OAS and the FLN, but what Miss Choi euphemistically calls 'hostilities' forced the Jews to throw in their lot with the pieds noirs. With their French citizenship restored, it was obvious that efforts to coax the Algerian Jews to Israel would fail. But some 14,000 Algerian Jews, out of 160,000 did flee to Israel.
The trouble with academics nowadays is that they try to fit their conclusions into preconceived notions: one of the most pernicious is that Jews were accomplices of European colonialism. In order to convince, they have to leave out half the story: the historic oppression of the Jewish natives by Arab Muslims.
Sung Choi's lecture