Mus­lims and Jews in France: His­to­ry of a Conflict

Maud S. Mandel
  • Review
By – June 16, 2015

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, 196872” 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.

Relat­ed Content:

Rachel Simon, a librar­i­an at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, does research on Jews in the mod­ern Mid­dle East and North Africa, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to Libya, Ottoman Empire, women, and education.

Discussion Questions