Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict

Princeton University Press  2014


In view of the growing number of Muslim anti-Semitic occurrences in France culminating in anti-Jewish terrorist attacks, this historical analysis of Muslim-Jewish relations in France during the twentieth century is a most timely contribution. In her examination of this dynamic, Maud S. Mandel pays attention to the developing social, economic, cultural, and political status of Muslims and Jews in France, on the background of France’s changing foreign and domestic policies—especially as related to France’s colonial position in North Africa—and the impact of the creation of the State of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian nation. She shows how these internal and external changes impact Muslim-Jewish relations in France. The analysis makes it clear how the different history of both groups in France, and especially the impact of French Colonial and post-Colonial policies, had a lasting effect on both communities and their relations with each other.

The book includes an introduction, six chapters, and a conclusion. The first chapter focuses on Muslim-Jewish relations in Marseille, which was not only the port connecting France and North Africa, but also the main connection point to Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean, through which potential fighters, weapons, and ammunition for the 1948 War were shipped. Mandel shows how poor housing conditions in Marseille often had Muslims and Jews immigrants living in close proximity in some neighborhoods, causing problems when fighting in Israel was going on. In addition, the numerous Muslim port workers tried to prevent Jews and military supplies from leaving through Marseille to Israel, while at the same time the mayor of Marseille was very supportive of the Jews and Israel.

The second chapter examines the impact of decolonization on Jewish and Muslim immigration. Whereas most Jewish immigrants had a certain level of French education, had arrived as families, and many held French citizenship—thus benefitting from state help in resettlement—such was often not the case with Muslim immigrants. In addition, Jews could benefit from French and international Jewish aid organizations. As a result, Jews wanted to and could acculturate in French society to improve their living conditions and their socioeconomic status, while most Muslims were left behind and remained in poor neighborhoods. Over time, the image of individual backgrounds of Jews from the various North African countries had blurred, and all were seen as North African Jews or Muslims.

These developments are further examined in the third chapter on the impact of decolonization during the 1950s and 1960s, when the number of both Jews and Muslims increased following the declarations of independence in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. The following chapter examines the impact of the Six Day War and Israel’s rule over occupied Palestinian territories on Muslim-Jewish relations in France and on each community.

“Palestine in France: Radical Politics and the Hardening Ethnic Allegiances, 1968-72” examines the impact of political radicalization among French youth on attitudes toward the Palestinian conflict and the growing political activity among Muslims in France regarding the latter, identifying Judaism with Zionism, and consequently with colonialism and imperialism; the last chapter examines political and ideological developments among the younger generation of Muslims and Jews in striving to maintain their unique identities while presenting mutual attempts to fight racism. Due, however, to serious differences in approach and action, these attempts failed.

In this study Mandel shows the intricate connections between socioeconomic status and acculturation of Muslims and Jews in France on the shaping of their relations and political views, on the background of French domestic and foreign policies, and on developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. This book, which includes extensive notes and an index, is an important study on Muslims and Jews in France, and it would have been of even greater value had it had a bibliography.

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