Algerian anti-Zionist discovers his Jewish identity

He was born in Tlemcen, Algeria, the son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish Communist father. A film-maker, Jean-Pierre Lledo was a rabid anti-Zionist until he made a visit to Israel, in 2008. The result was a journey to discover his Jewish identity. Now living in Israel, Jean-Pierre Lledo has just released  a film,  Israel: The forbidden journey, an 11-hour documentary in four parts, each named after a Jewish festival, which recently had its premiere in Tel Aviv. Adi Schwartz interviewed him for Israel Hayom: 

Jean-Pierre Lledo with his partner Ziva Postec who edited his four-part film, Israel: the forbidden journey.

In retrospect, Jean-Pierre Lledo’s complex identity has played a role in his life since time immemorial. “When we were kids,” he says, “the Arab kids kept talking about ‘Arab Algeria’ and ‘Muslim Algeria,’ and I always said to them, ‘Non-Muslim Algeria, she’s Algerian.’ I wanted to belong. “To that country. If Algeria is only Arab, then I do not belong to it.” The position of his communist father and friends was that there was no difference between Muslims and Jews, white or black, European or African – all Algerians. “I grew up in this atmosphere. I felt more Algerian than the Algerians themselves.”

During his exile in Paris, Lledo slowly began to deal with issues he could not deal with as long as he lived in Algeria. The first of these was the forced departure of Algerian Jews and European settlers immediately after independence. The official position in Algeria was that this was a natural move, and that the Europeans were foreign settlers, who had simply returned to their countries of origin.

Lledo knew it was not exactly like that, since one of the leavers was his Uncle Nissim (who moved to Israel -ed) , and Jews in Algeria would not have been foreign settlers but residents for two thousand years, long before the Muslim occupation. “I did not think then like everyone else,” he says, “but I could not go against it as long as I was in Algeria. It could not be done there. It was not possible to go against that narrative. It was taboo.”

But Israel still remains an unknown land, even hated. “For me, this was not only a political problem of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians,” he describes, “but also a problem of identity. I knew that my mother was Jewish and that my father was not Jewish, but I never examined in depth what it means to be Jewish. Aware that if I was interested in Israel while perceiving myself as an Algerian, it would cause a rift with Algeria, with my friends, with everyone. As long as someone is in Algeria, it is impossible otherwise, just to be against Israel. “It is not at all possible to raise the question of the treatment of Israel. It is impossible at all to imagine a discussion about it, because it is clear to you that this will have serious consequences.”

To the question of why Israel arouses such strong feelings in Algeria and in the Arab world in general, Lledo answers on two levels. “France brought colonialism to Algeria,” he says, “and the Algerians hate France, but that does not stop them from visiting it all the time. In the case of Israel, there is the political issue, of 1948, which the Arabs have not actually accepted to this day. The establishment of the State of Israel.

Poster for ‘Israel: the forbidden journey’ film

“But it sits on a deeper religious issue, of Islam’s attitude toward Judaism. Classical Muslim texts recount how Muhammad’s forces defeated the Jews among the Khyber. It comes to this day, when Arabs demonstrate, even within Israel, they call ‘Khayber-Khaybar, Ya Yehud’, to commemorate that battle in which the Jews were defeated. The political problem is based on a deeper religious background. ”

Lledo’s decision to accept the invitation of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and visit Israel in 2008 completely freed all the demons. All his friends, intellectuals and writers, even those living in France, and throughout the Arab world, by no means begged him not to come to Israel. One of them called him on the eve of his flight several dozen times to try and persuade him to avoid the visit. When he realized that they had a strong opinion, he told him that their relationship was over. “My best friend,” says Lledo, “who was also an Algerian exile in Paris, began to approach me in the second person plural instead of in the second person singular, a clear sign of distance in French. He told me not to approach him any more.”

By the end of that year, when the fighting broke out in Gaza as part of Operation Cast Lead, Lledo had already begun to change his position in favor of Israel. “I saw what was really going on here,” he says. “When the war started, I saw terrible things being said in Algerian mosques against Jews. Everyone in Algeria was then against Israel and against the Jews. Since they still knew me, I wrote that we, as Algerian intellectuals, must not remain silent in the face of these expressions of anti-Semitism.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

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