The French Revolution, Napoleon, and Life in a City Where Jews Needed a License to Reside

April 2 2019

In 1424, at a time when such banishments were common, the German city of Cologne expelled its Jewish population, which had been there since at least the 4th century CE. Looking back on her research into the city’s Jews, which formed the basis of her first book, the historian Shulamit Magnus explains the anomalous history that followed:

Cologne, unlike most places, rigidly excluded Jews [after the expulsion, rather than] letting some back in only to re-expel and readmit, as happened in many Central European locales. In Cologne, there was no ghetto, no Jewish street—no Jews at all. In the rare event that political pressures forced permission for a (very wealthy) Jew to traverse the city en route elsewhere, he (I don’t recall reading any were women) had to be accompanied in the streets by a red-cloaked guard, proclaiming, “Jew! Jew!”

Then, in 1789, the French Revolution took place, and shortly thereafter was carried across the map of Europe by armies of the Revolution. Cologne, on the left bank of the Rhine, near France, was not just conquered, but annexed. . . . It is well known that the French Revolution emancipated French Jews and that Revolutionary armies then razed ghettos and imposed emancipation wherever they went. . . . It is less well known that Napoleon [who seized power from the Revolutionary government] was profoundly Judeophobic and that, as emperor, he severely compromised the emancipation the Revolution had extended and instituted discriminatory legislation that harked back to that of the ancien régime.

Under Napoleonic legislation, Jews were guilty until proved innocent. For Jews to engage in business, they first had to obtain a special “Jew-license” in addition to any regular license needed to conduct business. To qualify for this license, Jews had to prove that they had not engaged in usury or fraud and to bring a character testimonial from the local synagogue, implicating the organized community in systematic discrimination. . . . Napoleon’s anti-Jewish legislation remained on the books on the left bank of the Rhine until 1847.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, France, German Jewry, History & Ideas, Napoleon Bonaparte


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