Dreyfus trial antisemitism moved to France from Algeria

The Jews of Algeria were granted French nationality in 1870 under the Décret Crémieux. But they faced a constant battle to hold on to their rights, according to a lecture by the historian David Cohen for Akadem.

The aftermath of the Constantine pogrom of 1934. The photos, in a family album, were displayed as part of the ‘Juifs d’orient: une histoire plurimillenaire ‘ exhibition in Paris recently.

This year the Jews of Algeria merit special attention, it being the 60th anniversary of their mass exodus in 1962. To mark the occasion, the historian David Cohen gave a potted history of the community, which was under Ottoman rule until the French conquered Algeria in 1830.

The French abolished the dhimmi status of the Jews, as well as the jizya tax. They also set about dismantling the community’s religious autonomy. In 1842, two Jews were dispatched from France (the so-called Altabas mission) to bring  the rabbinical establishment, or consistoire, under the wing of the Paris consistoire. The next step was to grant French nationality to the Jews.

In 1865 a senatus-consulte offered French citizenship to both Jews and Muslims, but only 330 Jews applied and very few Muslims – they were reluctant to have the French state govern their personal status. In 1870 the French Minister of Justice, Adolphe Crémieux, a Jew with a close relationship to the community, imposed French citizenship on the country’s Jews.

French citizenship was a poisoned chalice, according to Cohen.  Following an economic crisis, an influx of Spaniards into the Oran region from Andalusia led to a rise in antisemitism, culminating in the crisis of 1897 -98. Antisemitism was whipped up by the anti-Dreyfusard Eduard Drumont. However, Cohen argues that the antisemitism sparking the Dreyfus case was imported into France from Algeria, and not the other way around. As French citizens, Jews served in WWI –  2,850 died. But the French army was rife with antisemitism and a committee to protect Jewish rights was set up under the chairmanship of Henri Aboulker.

The Great Depression in the US led to an economic crisis in Algeria in the early 1930s. The Constantine massacre of 1934, which claimed the lives of 25 Jews, was started by disaffected Muslims. The massacre led to the establishment of a second committee, the Comité Juif Algérien d’Etudes Sociales, to preserve Jewish rights. Those rights were never secure: in Sidi Bel Abbès, the mayor wanted to fix the elections by depriving the Jews of the vote. The Jews went to the Court of Appeal to have their voting rights re-instated. This occurred in 1939. But worse was to come when the Vichy regime was installed in 1940, and the Algerian Jews were stripped of their French citizenship.

Akadem video with David Cohen (French)


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