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Muslim-Jewish Convergence in North Africa: 1934-1962

Panel V-17, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
This panel disrupts dominant teleological, narratives about “the end” of Jewish life in twentieth century North Africa. It does so by bringing together stories of Muslim-Jewish interaction and convergence against the backdrop of the rise of European anti-Semitism and fascism, as well as Zionist colonization in Palestine leading up to the 1948 Nakba. These broader international developments cast particular shadows against the established colonial hierarchy in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. These papers explore stories of close personal interactions, intellectual production and exchange, and political cooperation. Our first paper explores the anti-Jewish violence that took place in the Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada in 1948. Tying this violence to an increase in the number of Moroccan Jews seeking to permanently resettle in Palestine-Israel, this paper takes a close look at the riots of 1948, seeking to illuminate who participated and for what reasons, as well as why they profoundly changed Muslim-Jewish relations. In contrast, the second paper explores Muslim-Jewish cooperation in Morocco. In the decades before the abovementioned incidents, Moroccan anti-fascism grew with close ties to groups in France, Spain, and neighboring Algeria. Indeed, the 1934 anti-Jewish riots of Constantine inspired Bernard Lecache of the Ligue internationale contre l’antisemitism to go on a speaking tour of French North Africa. The 1934 Constantine riots also figure in the third paper, but as a foil for a very different sort of activist: notably Algerian Salafists. Moving beyond the limiting problematic of anti-Semitism, this paper uses the Arabic writings of Abdelhamid ben Badis (as well as other thinkers) to explore how Jews fit into anti-colonial reformist Muslim thought in interwar Algeria. Our fourth presenter offers the rich lens of a deeply-researched personal story to shed light on Jewish-Muslim relations in decolonizing Tunisia. Notably, that of a close relative of the speaker, whose Jewish teacher proved formative in his early education and eventual migration to the United States in 1961. This personal history is set against the July 1961 Bizerte affair which proved to be a critical moment in the history of Tunisian decolonization. Together, these papers seek to add texture to histories that tend to be reduced by the often teleological narratives shaped to fit a history defined by decolonization and the founding of Israel.
  • Prof. Susan Gilson Miller -- Presenter
  • Dr. Joshua Schreier -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Ms. Alma Heckman -- Presenter
  • Malick Ghachem -- Presenter
  • Dr. Joshua Schreier
    Sheikh ‘Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis led the movement for Islamic reform (Salafism) in interwar Algeria. In addition to founding the Association des Ulamas Musulmans d’Algerie,in 1931, he edited the journal al-Shihab, which ran between 1925 and 1940. These institutions critiqued the French-aligned Muslim establishment in colonial Algeria, paving the way for the rise of an Algerian Salafism aligned (at least for a time) with the nationalist movement. But living in the city of Constantine, with a small European settler community and a significant native Jewish population, it is not surprising that Bin Badis also took interest in the question of Jews and Judaism. He ran a significant number of articles in al-Shihab, not only on the events in Palestine, but on Jewish history in Algeria, how Jews fit into the colonial order, and the relationship between Judaism and Islam. Furthermore, he printed the work other Salafi writers whose work similarly discussed Jews and Judaism. Bin Badis’ stance toward Jews could be understood as bifurcated: he undeniably sought peaceful coexistence with Algeria’s actual Jews, but often broadcast a very negative view of "The Jews’" role in the world. This was often hued with his particular vision of Islam. Such an analysis represents a departure from a historical literature (often limited by the rubric of “anti-Semitism” to evaluate Ben Badis thought and social role in Algeria) that has emphasized his lack of anti-Jewish sentiment. True, he helped quell the 1934 anti-Jewish violence in Constantine, spoke out against “religious hatred,” and generally distinguished Zionism from Judaism. Furthermore, he ran foreign articles that showcased Jews and Muslims’ peaceful, shared history in North Africa. At the same time, he also lambasted Jews’ role in colonialism in both Algeria and Palestine, and clearly saw the Jews as ultimately at fault for the 1934 violence. Even more strikingly, he ran articles by the well-known Egypt-based Salafist Rashid Rida casting Jews as a near-diabolical force in history, even a tool of God to exact vengeance. The fact that such ideas coexisted with writings that attacked anti-Jewish prejudice, and sincere efforts to stop anti-Jewish violence, clearly suggests a more nuanced understanding of Bin Badis and his understanding of Jews in Algeria is in order.
  • Ms. Alma Heckman
    This paper will examine Moroccan Jewish and Muslim anti-fascist activism during the interwar period. Interwar Morocco was home to a thriving anti-fascist political scene with intimate connections to France and Spain. Politically active Moroccan Jews and Muslims were found in the ranks of many different anti-fascist organizations, above all the International League Against Antisemitism, or the LICA after its French acronym (Ligue internationale contre l’antisémitisme). The LICA itself was originally founded in Paris in 1928 by the French Jew and journalist Bernard Lecache as the League Against Pogroms before changing its name. While most of the LICA’s activities were in France, it had chapters across French North Africa as well as in Egypt. Morocco was home to several thriving LICA chapters, with activity in nearly every major urban center, and counted Moroccan Jews and Muslims as well as Europeans among its leadership and membership. At the core of LICA’s mission stood a dedication to French republicanism and its promises of universalist humanism. French and Spanish Fascist organizations, too, had chapters in French North Africa, including Morocco. These organizations included Action Française and the Croix de Feu, and spewed antisemitic propaganda. Morocco had been divided into two protectorates in 1912, a French one composing most of Morocco’s heartlands and Atlantic coast as well as its main imperial cities, and a Spanish one on the Mediterranean coast in the north. Tangier was an international zone. Jews and Muslims across these zones were alarmed by the growth of fascism in Europe and in North Africa. Propaganda linking Jews to a fictitious international Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy theory spread in French and Spanish Morocco alike. Indeed, the ongoing Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) provided an opportunity for Nazi propaganda to enter Morocco, as Nazi Germany supported Franco’s forces against the Republican government. At the same time, conflict in British mandatory Palestine reverberated in Morocco, with anti-Zionist agitation slipping into antisemitism. And in 1934, violence broke out against the Jews of Constantine, Algeria, prompting Bernard Lecache to engage in a public speaking tour of French North African LICA chapters. Through organizations like the LICA as well as the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a French-Jewish educational organization based in Paris with schools throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Moroccan Jews and Muslims responded to rising fascism and antisemitism out of a sense of shared political values.
  • Malick Ghachem
    Building on the rise of family history and migration studies as vibrant new modes for narrating American, Middle Eastern, and Jewish history, this paper traces the points of convergence and divergence between the lives of my Muslim father and his Tunisian Jewish teacher over the post-WWII decade that coincided with the decolonization of Tunisia. Born in 1941, my father left Tunisia in 1961 with the aid of an American government scholarship designed to orient postcolonial “Third World” students towards the United States. By encouraging him to apply for this scholarship, David Errera played a decisive role in what proved to be the fundamental event of my father’s life: his migration to the U.S. and education as a petroleum engineer at the University of Tulsa. Errera was descended from the Livornese Sephardic diaspora whose organized presence in Tunisia dates back to the late seventeenth century. Like Albert Memmi, he was imprisoned as a young man in a German labor camp in Tunis during the Nazi occupation of North Africa, became a teacher (of English) after the war at the Lycée des garçons de Sousse, and wrote for the Tunisian newspapers La Presse, La dépêche tunisienne, and Le Petit Matin. WWII changed everything for both men. Decolonization and the rise of Cold War ideological proxy warfare created a path for my father to migrate to the U.S. and pursue his dream of becoming a chemical engineer. For his part, Errera (and other Tunisian Jews) encountered an increasingly tenuous place in the new postwar (and eventually postcolonial) Tunisian society. Opportunities for social advancement like entering the teaching profession were available, but they were tied to the perpetuation of French cultural and institutional influence in Tunisia. Perhaps sensing the decline of that influence, Errera himself increasingly turned toward the U.S. as a vehicle for mediating his vision of Tunisia’s postcolonial future. Tensions over Israel, Algerian independence, and the 1961 Bizerte crisis with France ultimately overwhelmed that pluralist vision. Errera made his own exit from Tunisia in 1962, therebv converging in a paradoxical way with my father’s story – though his reasons for leaving may have extended beyond anti-Semitism. Using sources drawn from family papers, the archives of father’s school, newspapers, and French public records, this paper reconstructs the intersecting fates of two sons of Tunisia as they navigated the headwinds of life after WWII and independence.
  • Prof. Susan Gilson Miller
    In the period 1946-1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust, Moroccan Jewry underwent a dramatic transformation. From a state of widespread indifference to the Zionist cause, Moroccan Jews became avid supporters of the new Jewish state. The number of Moroccan Jews seeking to permanently resettle in Palestine surpassed all previous limits. As departures rose, so did violent attacks against Jews, culminating in a massacre on June 8, 1948 in the eastern towns of Oujda and Jerada, where more than forty people were killed by mobs. The motives behind these attacks have never been examined, the perpetrators have never been definitively identified, the architects behind the scenes never named, their motives never fully explained. The aim of this paper is to reexamine the available evidence and to propose a more precise analysis of who was responsible. Using archival sources from Nantes, Rabat and the JDC in New York, this paper will take a microscopic look at the Moroccan “pogroms” of 1948, asking who participated and for what reasons, while also addressing the question of why this tragedy became a definitive turning point in Muslim-Jewish relations in post-war North Africa.