Jews critique report by Algerian-Jewish historian Stora

The Algerian war of independence was a brutal six-year conflict between the French army, local paramilitaries and the FLN independence fighters. It ended in the eviction of 800,000 pieds noirs (white settlers), and the repatriation of some 130,000 Jews to France. The Algerian war  has long been a sore point, eliciting calls for  an apology from France for torture ; president Macron has sought to heal the wounds by appointing the Algerian-born Jewish historianBenjamin Stora to write a  report. But Stora’s report has attracted criticism from left and right. (with thanks: Jean-Loup, Imre)

Benjamin Stora

The New York Times reports:

 PARIS — France will establish a ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission to review the country’s colonial history in Algeria, following a key recommendation in a new, much-anticipated report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron (and released in January 2021).
The report also presented a series of other proposals to address longstanding grievances. But it ruled out issuing an official apology for the past, and the proposals avoided the question of systemic torture by French forces, which Mr. Macron has already acknowledged.
The report said its purpose was to achieve a “reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria,” two countries divided not by just the Mediterranean Sea but also by deep animosity stemming from years of colonization and an independence war that left hundreds of thousands dead.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Mr. Macron’s office said that he would create a Memories and Truth Commission as recommended. In addition, it said, three ceremonies to be organized by the French government in 2021 and 2022 will pay tribute to Algerians who fought on opposite sides of the war. 

Ariella Azoulay

 Writing in the Boston Review,  Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, an academic and photography critic,  issued a vigorous critique of Stora’s report  addressed to him, alleging that not only did he barely mention Algerian Jews but that Jews were torn away from their Muslim brethren by the French, and French citizenship forced on them against their will. 

 “Like you, I have a personal stake in these matters. I was born in 1962, the year the war ended, when my family, yours, and 140,000 other Jews were forced to leave Algeria as the direct consequence of its long colonization. As you noted in your 2006 book The Three Exiles of Jews from Algeria, two other exiles preceded this one.

 “The first occurred in 1870, when the Crémieux decree separated the Jews from the rest of the Algerian population and turned them into French citizens in their own country; the second in 1940, when the Vichy government revoked this decree and French citizenship along with it. Your book was very helpful to me when, more than a decade ago, I started to ask questions about the fabricated identity that was assigned to me at birth—“Israeli.” The more I studied the structures put in place to dissociate me from my Algerian Jewish ancestors, the less I recognized myself in this assigned identity. I rejected it twice over: first as a form of belonging, and second as an imperial template of history—an effort to mark a new beginning (in 1948), a rupture between what was made “past” and what was allowed to be the future. 

“The creation of the state of Israel proclaimed previous affiliations and formations either nonexistent (Palestine) or inappropriate (Algerian Jews, Iraqi Jews, and so on). It devalued the singularity of diverse groups of Jews, reshaping and concocting them into an undifferentiated group. This move effectively continued the Napoleonic project of regulating Jewish life, making “the Jewish people” into a historical-national subject that can only be fully realized by a sovereign state of its own.”

“When I started to gather histories and memories of who we Algerian Jews were until not so long ago, I noticed a striking similarity between the settler colonial identity assigned to me and the one assigned to my Algerian ancestors in 1870. My father left Algeria for Israel in 1949, and the rest of my family had to depart in 1962 to France, leaving behind more than two millennia of Arab Jewish life in the Maghreb. We can say that we are of Algerian origins, but colonialism destroyed the shared world in which this identity materialized. 

“When my ancestors were made French citizens, they didn’t stop being colonized; “granting” them settler colonial citizenship was another form of French colonization, not its end. Indeed it initiated a process of deracination. Jews were set apart from the people among whom they lived and with whom they shared language, cosmologies, beliefs, experiences, traditions, landscapes, histories, and memories. Some Algerian Jews welcomed French citizenship, but in 1865 most had refused to apply for it. The three exiles you describe in your book are examples of the heavy price Jews paid for their colonizers’ citizenship, a decision that impacted their descendants as well. The fact that some chose to comply—and later found ways to profit from their citizenship—doesn’t make it less of a colonial technology, which forcibly engineers people to become other than who they are.

“As Maghreb and Middle Eastern Jews were forcibly assimilated into the European persona of the Jew as citizen, they were trained to see Arabs and Muslims as others.
“Studying the connection between these two settler identities, the French and the Israeli, helped me to understand the role they played in serving the interests of major European colonial powers: namely, to dissociate the Jews from Arabs and Muslims and to incorporate them into the fabricated “Judeo-Christian tradition.”
(See my comment below). 

Jean-Pierre Lledo

 The Stora report has also come under fire from Jean-Pierre Lledo, himself born in Algeria of a Jewish mother. Writing at length in Revue Politique et Parlementaire(French)
Lledo questions why the report should only require reconciliation between the French and the Algerian Muslims, including the Harkis, the native soldiers who fought on behalf of the French but were denied their rights. The Algerian Muslims were not the only victims of violence, Lledo says: a massacre of non-Muslims, even communists who supported independence, is not mentioned (Some 3,000 were murdered in 1962.)

Algeria was never a nation, but an Ottoman province before 1830 when it came under French rule. For centuries, It was the scene of great terror against Berbers and Arabs alike and piracy.  Arabs practised slavery against kidnapped Europeans.  The  Arab slave trade was just as egregious as the Atlantic, if not more so. The slave traders castrated thousands of male slaves, thus effectively committing the genocide of generations unborn.

While Stora vaunts the Jewish musician Raymond Leyris as a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence and shared culture, he fails to mention that Leyris was murdered by FLN supporters. Furthermore, Stora fails to allude to the pre-1830 Dhimma, the subordinate status of Jews and Christians under Islam. Examples of dhimmi abuse are enumerated in the 800-page book by Fenton and Littman, Exile from the Maghreb, but these are conveniently ignored. 

My comment: It is not clear why, for Ariella Azoulay, ‘Israeli’ should be a ‘fabricated’ identity but ‘Algerian’ – describing a modern Arabic-speaking state carved out of the Maghreb in defiance of the wishes of its indigenous Berber (Kabyle) population – should not. Azoulay accuses the French of imperialism while ignoring centuries of Muslim  imperialism. She accuses the French of tearing the Jews away from their Muslim brethren, a charge frequently proferred by ‘cultural studies’ scholars like Ella Shohat.Shohat, the inventor of the phrase ‘Arab Jew’, leads a popular school of thought in western universities which inflates the importance of cultural identity over politics. 

Absent from Azoulay’s polemic is any appreciation that Algerian Jews had few rights before they were granted French citizenship in 1870. The reason why the Jews were hesitant to accept it is because the rabbis did not want to cede their authority to civil society. She dismisses the fact that Algerian Muslim were offered French citizenship too in 1865, but did not want their personal status governed by French civil law  Azoulay’s article idealises relations between Jews and Muslims and lacks essential  historical context. For all its faults the French colonial era ‘liberated’ Jews from their subaltern status.


  • Ms. Azoulay is 100% wrong in her comments of Stora's report, which report was also wrong in its own way.
    Ms. Azoulay mentions "Arab-jews" which never existed: there were jewish people in North Africa long before the 7th century arab invasion and conquest which imposed unfair and humiliating "Dhimmi" status to the aboriginal jews, as a form of apartheid.
    The french protectorate and rule in North Africa put an end to piracy and slave trading by arab tribes and protected the jews from persecution under the "Dhimma" segregation.
    Mr. Stora writes that the algerian jews "chose" France, meaning that they emigrated to France by their own free will, abandoning their native country and the land of their ancestors. This is a blatant lie: the jews and the christians, and all of the non muslim residents of Algeria were offered by independant Algeria a choice between "The suitcase or the coffin", after a string of murders of unarmed non-muslim civilians.
    Both Azoulay and Stora are blinded to historical truth by their leftist fanatical ideology.

  • Reely Azoulai is one of those fanatic "leftist" Israelis who hates Israel and makes up a false history of the Diaspora country that her family came from in order to justify her hatred. I have read some of her hate-ridden writings and know that she was published in English long before she left Israel. She is the longtime "partner" of one Adi Ofir whom I am acquainted with. Ofir held a rather high position at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem and also wrote book reviews for the Ma`ariv weekend edition [maybe he was the editor of the book review section].
    More recently he and Reely Azoulai left Israel, because –Ofir said– he and she had despaired of changing the bigoted minds of the nationalistic, Zionist Israelis. We can be assured that he and Azoulai both got comfortable academic positions at American institutions. Since there is more than one way to skin a cat, the descendants of those Judeophobic US officials like Harry Hopkins and Roosevelt and Robert Murphy, welcome anti-Israel [fundamentally anti-Jewish] Jewish intellectuals into the American academy in order to spread their false and bigoted beliefs. In this case, the notions of "left" and "right" can only mislead honest people seeking the truth. The very fact that Reely Azoulai has found refuge in America, a "colonial settler" country par excellence discloses her hypocrisy in regard to Israel.

    As to her ignorance about history, she exposes it by asserting "more than two millennia of Arab Jewish life in the Maghreb," whereas the Arabs conquered North Africa in the early eighth century, only about 1300 years ago, not 2000. And the idyll she describes of Jewish life in Algeria among their "Muslim brethren" is simply laughable. Georges Bensoussan's book might enlighten her. And as a sidelight, is she aware that French settlers and native Arab Muslims joined together to persecute Jews at the time of the Dreyfus Affair? And after?


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