A Jewish “Pogrom” in Late Colonial Algeria: Fear and Pluralism in a Dying Colonial Order

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:20 AM
Room 208 (Hynes Convention Center)
Joshua S. Schreier , Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
This paper explores an unlikely (and almost entirely overlooked) 1961 incident in which Jews of Oran rioted against their Muslim neighbors in order to examine the varieties and nuance of a tense but still diverse late-colonial society. It represents one section of an evolving project on Jews in twentieth-century Algeria that means to complicate the scholarly and popular image of Middle Eastern Jews as a distinct, reified minority in “Muslim” (or “Arab”) lands. If this paper offers a story of violence, it is framed by geographic and cultural proximity between Jews and Muslims, and actually contributes to an evolving scholarship that recalls a relatively recent but largely forgotten religious pluralism and diversity in North Africa. Prompted by the murder of a Jewish hairstylist, the riot (which many French and Muslim observers labeled a “pogrom”) led to the pillaging of a number of Muslim-owned stores and to the murder of two Muslims. Because the image of Jews victimizing Muslims contrasted starkly with the dominant colonial narrative that held Jews to be eternal victims of Islamic intolerance, it inspired a struggle of competing and politically tinged representations in the international press and among global Jewish philanthropies. The North African Arabic press, for example, saw the episode as sad proof that native Algerian Jews had absorbed the “racism” of their colonizers, and called upon them to recognize that their proper allegiances lay with their Muslim brothers in the struggle for independence. Jewish organizations such as the Alliance Israélite Universelle, in contrast, read Jewish violence as the outcome of desperation caused by what they identified as “Muslim” economic competition, and the anti-Zionist discourse of the National Liberation Front (FLN). This paper suggests that such contrasting narratives reveals much about a dying pluralism in the last days of France's colonial order.