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January 10, 2023 11:53 am

Anger Over Algerian Paper’s ‘Unbearable Antisemitic Diatribe’ Targeting French Jewish Historian

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avatar by Ben Cohen

French-Jewish historian Benjamin Stora. Photo: Reuters/Eric Dervaux

A group of influential French intellectuals have risen to the defense of a prominent Jewish historian of North Africa after he was the subject of an antisemitic screed in an Algerian government-backed newspaper.

Benjamin Stora — one of the world’s leading experts on Algeria and the author of several award-winning books on the country — was commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2020 to prepare a report on French commemoration of the  bloody 1962 Algerian War that resulted in the North African nation’s independence.

At the end of December, the Algerian government-backed outlet Algérie Patriotique published a scathing assault on Stora, whose report was submitted one year ago.

“Poor France is entitled to be led as it sees fit in the writing of its history, but the Algerian people refuse to take the same path traced by Benjamin Stora, his fellows and his ancestors,” the paper declared in an editorial.

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The editorial continued with an attack on “the very people who were at the origin of the capture of Algiers, the Bakri and the Busnach — crooked merchants coveting the immense treasure of the Regency for their masters the Rothschilds, the Seillières and the Schneiders.”

The Bakri and Busnach families were Jewish traders who operated a company that supplied France with large amounts of wheat and other foods from the end of the eighteenth century, going on to become an important source of provisions for Napoleon’s armies in the early part of the nineteenth century. It financed its activities by borrowing heavily from Algerian ruler Hussein Dey’s treasury. In parallel, the French state built up an enormous debt to the company which it refused to pay, resulting in a standoff that many historians argue was a key factor behind the French decision to invade Algeria in 1830.

Responding to the attack on Stora — who was born into an Algerian Jewish family that moved to France following independence — the French chapter of the international writers association PEN expressed indignation in a statement on Jan. 5, emphasizing that Algérie Patriotique enjoys the backing of the Algerian state.

Noting that the attack on Stora came at the same time that independent media outlets are being suppressed by President Abdelmajid Tebboune’s government, the PEN group expressed its “solidarity with the Algerian people threatened in their most elementary rights.”

The attack was also denounced in the newspaper Libération by columnist Thomas Legrand, who described it as an “unbearable antisemitic diatribe.”

In an interview with the journal Africa Report in 2021, Stora underlined that the purpose of his original report was to advance reconciliation between France and Algeria.

“Today in France we have young people who are second, third or fourth generation immigrants and they want to discover their history and get a glimpse of the past,” he observed. “They want to know what their [ancestors] went through and find out how they ended up here, why they have one identity or another and where they stand in relation to the rest of French society.”

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