The Jewish Musicians Who Shaped Modern North Africa—and Modern Israel

In Christopher Silver’s book Recording History: Jews, Muslims, and Music across Twentieth-Century North Africa, Matti Friedman finds a slice of history whose echoes reverberate in contemporary Israeli culture, and that “matters a great deal for anyone trying to understand Israel” today:

Recording History introduces us to the musical world of the Maghreb in the first half of the 20th century, and specifically to the Jewish performers and talent scouts who shaped the sounds heard by millions of Moroccans, Algerians, and Tunisians. Jews were central players in the Arabic music scene, moving back and forth over ethnic lines and between the concert hall and the synagogue in a way that now seems remarkable. We meet figures like Edmond Nathan Yafil, a Jewish mandolin player from the casbah of Algiers who collected hundreds of beloved local melodies in a 1904 compendium that was the first of its kind. Yafil also mentored dozens of musicians—Jews and Muslims—conducted the radio orchestra, and steered Algeria’s new recording industry in the first decades of the 20th century.

Silver’s memorable cast of characters includes . . . Acher Mizrahi, born in Jerusalem and transplanted to the Jewish Quarter of Tunis, who was somehow a synagogue cantor, a teacher at a religious school, and the author of the suggestive pop hit “Où vous étiez mademoiselle.”

It may surprise many readers to learn that some of the voices most closely identified with the North African independence movements belonged to Jews. [The Tunisian pop starlet Habiba] Messika’s 1928 version of an anti-British Egyptian anthem was considered so dangerous, for example, that it drew the attention of French security agents.

Much changed with the creation of Israel in 1948—but the real shift, Friedman explains, came after the Nazi defeat of France in 1940, when the collaborationist Vichy regime took control of much of the Maghreb:

After 1940, the native Jewish musicians who’d been at the center of the Arab scene, and who were now barred from it by law, watched many of their Muslim friends and colleagues betray them. Cultural officials accused them of importing “decadence” into Arabic music and of appropriating a culture that was foreign to them. Magazines published vicious musical critiques of their work alongside the regime’s new anti-Jewish laws. Mahiedinne Bachetarzi, for decades a protégé of the famed Jewish impresario Yafil, now moved to center stage and wrote a song of exuberant praise for Vichy and its dictator, Marshal Pétain.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arab nationalism, Israeli culture, Jewish music, North African Jewry, Vichy France

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security