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October 24: Algerian Jews

Lawrence Bush
October 23, 2016
Jews of Algeria, numbering more than 33,000, were granted French citizenship on this date in 1870, a little more than three decades after France colonized the North African country. Algerian Jewish communities dated back to Roman times and the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and were reinforced by the influx of Sephardim after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. The decree of citizenship elevated Algerian Jews above the Muslim majority, who did not receive French citizenship rights, and also reflected a French Jewish disdain and assimilationist attitude towards indigenous North African Jews, whom the Europeans hoped to “civilize.” While “the majority of Jews were poor artisans and shopkeepers catering to a Muslim clientele,” according to Elizabeth Friedman’s Colonialism & After, some Jews began to identify with the colonizers more than the colonized or to serve as middlemen between them. By the time of the Algerian war of independence (1954-62), although some Algerian Jews were active in the socialist National Liberation Front, the majority sided with the French and fled the country for either France and Israel. "A major characteristic of Algerian settler society was its antisemitism. The Algerian Jews' French citizenship, and the political rights which it granted, were seen as dangerous to settlers' vision of Algerian society. In the early 20th century, antisemitic newspapers flourished in Algeria, and politicians of major cities were elected on antisemitic platforms. . . . European antisemites in Algeria also tried to incite Muslims to act against the Jews, but without great success. Not surprisingly, this environment proved to be particularly fertile ground for the Nazi-inspired anti-Jewish measures during World War II. European antisemites spread rumors blaming the Jews for the French defeat and calling for pogroms. In September 1940, Jewish shops in Algiers were attacked and plundered, with little reaction from the authorities. Because they had fewer European settlers, French right-wing organizations had less of an impact in Morocco and Tunisia." --Susan Sussman, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.