The Less-Told Story of the Holocaust in North Africa

While the Nazi program of extermination never reached North Africa in full force, most of the region’s Jews found themselves in one way or another under Axis control, and suffered a great deal as a result. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia were all French colonies when World War II broke out, and thus came under Vichy rule; Libya was an Italian colony even before the war. Reviewing a recent collection of scholarly essays on the subject, edited by Aomar Boum and Sara Abrevaya Stein, Lawrence Rosen writes:

In the years leading up to the war, roughly 470,000 Jews lived in the countries of North Africa: 240,000 in Morocco, 110,000 in Algeria, 80,000 in Tunisia, and 40,000 in Libya. . . .

In [the French colony of] Algeria, for example, the hostility of the resident colonists (later called pieds noirs) to the Jews was palpable. Theirs was indeed the anti-Semitism of European heritage, but even so it took on local coloration as a vehicle for asserting that the Muslims, too, were a distinct and inferior race. Local officials, working with Vichy, set up about three dozen camps in Algeria (along with two dozen in Morocco and a handful in Tunisia and Libya) where some resident Jews, political prisoners from Europe, and Algerian Jewish soldiers serving in the French army were incarcerated.

Treatment in those camps located at the edge of the Sahara was harsh, but actual murder was rare. Several of the contributors to the present volume note that in a number of instances Muslim guards refused orders to harm the Jewish prisoners. . . . Some prisoners from [Algeria and Tunisia] were sent to concentration camps—but not death camps—in Europe; most of them survived.

Libya forms a distinctive case. . . . Local Italian fascists attacked Jews in Tripoli and Benghazi on several occasions in the early and mid-1930s, but . . . German anti-Semitic propaganda had no real effect on the local Muslims. Indeed, many Muslims took Jews into their homes to protect them from the colonial administration during this period. Ironically, it was only after the British recaptured Libya in 1942-1943 that some Muslims attacked the Jews (who, while the British turned their backs, bravely defended themselves), believing them to support continued Italian control over national independence.

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More about: African Jewry, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Mizrahi Jewry, Muslim-Jewish relations, World War II

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy