The discussion we present this month grew out of the companion articles on “Algeria & the Fifth Republic” which appeared in our January issue: Ray Alan’s “The Political Crisis” and Joseph Barry’s “The Moral Crisis.” Samuel L. Blumenfeld—the editor of Grosset and Dunlap’s University Library and secretary for the American Committee on France and Algeria—here comments on both articles; replies by Mr. Alan and Mr. Barry follow. This exchange was completed before the recent uprising of the Generals in Algeria.
Mr. Blumenfeld writes:
Both Ray Alan and Joseph Barry are guilty of strictly partisan viewpoints and grave errors of omission in their articles on France and the Algerian proglem.
Mr. Alan’s main purpose—to begin with him—is to discredit anything remotely pro-French Algerian. His primary sources of information are leftist Mendès-France circles around L’Express, France-Observateur, and Le Monde. He writes as a partisan of the “defeatist” Mendès position, using its vocabulary, repeating its prejudices, believing its myths, and desiring its goals. To say that de Gaulle was brought to power by “right-wing plotters and demagogues” is to reduce to a totally incomprehensible and simple cliché the Revolution of May 13, the most significant regenerative event in French history since the 1940 defeat. To refer constantly to the second- and third-generation Europeans of Algeria as “settlers” is as unjust as calling their immigrant counterparts in America anything less than Americans. To refer constantly to the Europeans of Algeria as “right-wingers” is as unjust as labeling all Zionists “right-wingers” because they do not follow the standard left-wing line on Arab nationalism. Nor is Algérie Française any more a “settler slogan,” as Mr. Alan labels it, than is Shema Yisroel a Zionist one. Algèrie Française happens to mean “life” to millions of people threatened with ultimate destruction.
But the most perfidious portion of Mr. Alan’s article is his footnote on anti-Semitism. He writes: “Israel is still fairly popular with the moderate right which dislikes Jews but welcomes any stick with which to scare the Arabs; she has lost friends during the last year in liberal circles which criticize Ben Gurion for his intransigent Arabophobia (understandable, surely) and his friendship with men like M. Soustelle and M. Gilbert (a former French ambassador to Israel whom the fascist-minded Jeunesses Socialistes Patriotes claim as a supporter).” For the last two years I have followed the French press, particularly the publications of the so-called “moderate right” quite closely, and I have found nothing but sincere friendship for Israel and genuine concern for the fate of the Jews in Algeria. Jacques Soustelle is well known as a long and faithful friend of the Jewish people and is one of the strongest advocates of a Franco-Israeli alliance of which Israel would be the primary benefactor. Mr. Gilbert, who served long and well as France’s envoy to Israel, is one of Israel’s staunchest friends in France. To imply that he has fascist leanings of any sort is a base attempt to defame him before a Jewish audience. If Mr. Alan is looking for anti-Semitism in the Algerian conflict, he’ll find his fill of it in the ranks of the FLN, which last December in Algiers staged one of the worst pogroms since World War II. The Cairo-Moscow-Peiping-supported FLN has made no secret as to what the fate of the Jews will be in Algeria and elsewhere once it seizes power.
One could find much more to criticize in Mr. Alan’s article. The things he says are bad enough. But what of all the sins of omission? What about the FLN and its recent open espousal of the Communist bloc? What about Nasser’s role in the Algerian war? What about the problem of NATO which so troubles military circles in the West? What about Algeria and the struggle between East and West? What about the role of Communist subversion? All of this Mr. Alan avoids discussing; for if he did, I imagine, he might have to get down to some hard thinking on some difficult questions. It is all very well to describe M. Soustelle as scurrying about hatching plots, which unfortunately he is not doing; it might have been better to let the readers know why there is a war in Algeria in the first place.
It would be difficult to write a more biased article than Ray Alan’s, but Joseph Barry has succeeded. Mr. Barry’s article is mainly devoted to eulogizing the glamorous 121 left-wing intellectuals who signed the now famous Manifesto sanctioning desertion from the French army. To American intellectuals this Manifesto may seem like a perfectly wonderful and heroic gesture in defiance of militarism, colonialism, and all other evils. In France, however, the consensus was quite different. One hundred and twenty-one intellectuals, no matter how famous, do not represent a nation. Treason is treason, even if the traitor is Jean-Paul Sartre or Simone Signoret. As much as I admire Mme. Signoret as an actress, I do not admire her as a political thinker. She and many other of the signers have long been identified with Communist causes.
Again, the usual omissions. Much ado about army tortures, but no mention of FLN terror, cutthroating, blackmail, etc., which have been going on during this period at a stepped-up pace with considerable casualties. No mention of Ferhat Abbas’s final solution to the Algerian Jewish question. Nothing but the glorification of 121 traitors to their country whose intellectual dishonesty is only too evident in the wording of the Manifesto itself: “We respect and consider justified the conduct of Frenchmen who deem it their duty to help and protect Algerians oppressed in the name of the French people.”
What I would like to know is to which oppressed Algerians does the Manifesto refer—the 200,000 or so serving loyally in the French army, the 1,200,000 European Algerians who have as much right to call themselves Algerians as anyone else, or the Algerian Moslems who sit as equals with their fellow Frenchmen in the National Assembly in Paris? The truth of the matter is that the oppressed Algerians whom the 121 signers are so concerned about are the cutthroats and their leaders in Cairo and Tunis—who spare neither women nor children, who have inflicted more casualties on the Moslem population than the European, who have staged pogroms against innocent Jews living among Moslems, and whose ultimate aim is to push the Europeans into the sea and destroy the hundreds of thousands of Moslems who for seven years have loyally served their country, the French Republic.
Anyone who has more than a superficial knowledge of the tactics and goals of world Communism and its Arab nationalist allies will understand what the Algerian war is all about. For Jews this is of particular significance, since, whether they realize it or not, the ultimate fate of Israel hinges on the eventual outcome of the Algerian conflict. The Russian goal, of course, is to outflank NATO by setting up tactical bases on the North African coast. These bases are the price Ferhat Abbas will pay for Soviet support. The Arab nationalist goal, of course, is the consolidation of the Arab “homeland” from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. This can only be accomplished by expelling France from Algeria. At the same time, Nasser is anxious to deprive France of the Saharan oil, for it is this oil which has made France free of Middle East blackmail.
Once France is defeated in North Africa, the Arab world will then turn its entire attention to its primary enemy, Israel. At this point, Israel will be in an almost defenseless position. The “liberals” in France, having appeased Arab nationalism in Algeria, will certainly then be disposed to appease the Arabs once more by depriving Israel of military aid. It should be noted that it was France’s aid which made the Sinai compaign possible, and it is French aid today which is enabling Israel to develop an atomic potential. Ray Alan has already reported dissatisfaction with Israel among French “liberals” because of Ben Gurion’s friendship with Soustelle and his “Arabo-phobia.” These same “liberals” and the 121 signers, who are so ready to sacrifice millions of Algerian Frenchmen to appease Arab nationalism, will certainly not spare the two million Israel “settlers” or ultras with their “slogan” Eretz Yisroel. Zionism is already synonomous with Western colonialism and imperialism in leftist circles, and certainly Messrs. Mendès-France, Servan-Schreiber, and the rest will exert pressure on Israel to accept the “liberal” solution to the Arab-Israel question—that is, a return to the original boundaries of the United Nations partition and the admission of the one million Arab refugees who will have waited so long, but not in vain. And how will Israel be able to resist pressure from the Arab and Communist coalition, pressure from French “liberals,” pressure from the “neutralists,” and, finally, pressure from the Kennedy administration?
This is the future as it is now developing with terrifying speed, thanks to de Gaulle’s “vision, courage, liberalism, etc.” Ben Gurion or his successor will be expected to show the same kind of courage and liberalism—by employing the Israeli army to force the Israelis to accept extermination, just as de Gaulle is now doing with the French army in Algeria in regard to the Europeans.
Mr. Alan replies:
It would be too easy to throw Mr. Blumenfeld’s puerile abuse back in his face: to accuse him of being a dupe of the neo-fascist French right, whose publications and activities are very largely financed by Algerian settler organizations. His style, his vocabulary, and his particular substitute for logic approximate strikingly those of the fascist weekly Rivarol: only the anti-Semitic caricatures are missing. His description of the squalid Algiers riot of May 13, 1958, as “the most significant regenerative event in French history since the 1940 defeat,” is pure Rivarol. Indeed, this single phrase strips him naked and reveals just where his political sympathies lie.
The purpose of the footnote Mr. Blumenfeld objects to was to bring up to date readers of my earlier COMMENTARY articles in which the subject had been mentioned. The footnote began: “Like anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism is less strident than two years ago, possibly because of the eclipse of the ultra’ principal bête noire, M. Pierre Mendès-France.” It then continued: “Israel is still fairly popular . . .” etc. I see no reason to modify it, and Mr. Blumenfeld is apparently incapable of producing so much as one contradictory fact. I did not state that what Mr. Blumenfeld describes as “the publications of the so-called moderate right” (whatever the “so-called moderate right” may be) were hostile to Israel or the Algerian Jews: that is his own red herring. I did not accuse M. Soustelle of anti-Semitism; I recorded simply that some French liberals had been alienated by Mr. Ben Gurion’s friendship with him (the popular Canard Enchaîné, which outsells all the pro-Soustelle papers, published a criticism of Mr. Ben Gurion on this score recently). I did not assert that M. Gilbert is a fascist: I noted only that the Jeunesses Socialistes Patriotes claim him as a supporter—a statement which has since appeared in the French press without contradiction (so far I know).
I was not “looking for anti-Semitism in the Algerian conflict”—and I did not mention “the problem of NATO,” Nasser, Uncle Tom Cobley, and all—for the self-evident reason that the subject of my article, printed in clear black type on page 14, was “Political Crisis in France.” My views on Nasser and the more unsavory aspects of Arab nationalism, formulated in the course of years of residence and travel in every Arab state between the Atlantic and the Tigris, are well known to readers of COMMENTARY, and I doubt if I have many lessons in the subject to receive from Mr. Blumenfeld, whose qualifications I do not know (I can only hope that they are a little more substantial than his qualifications for discussing France). If, however, Mr. Blumenfeld sincerely wishes to know my views on the situation of the Algerian Jews, I will do my best to outline them briefly.
I believe that the developments in Algeria illustrate once more the validity of the Zionist thesis. If I thought that Zionism involved the emigration to Israel of all American and Western European Jews, I should be anti-Zionist: their departure would be a calamity for Western civilization, their loss—culturally and morally—irreparable. But for the Jews of politically and culturally unstable countries like Algeria and Morocco, Zionism is an essential lifeline. Twenty years ago it was the largely pro-Vichyite Europeans of Algeria who were anti-Jewish (even Mr. Blumenfeld must have heard of Pétain’s abrogation of the Crémieux decrees), and I personally know of several heartening instances of wartime Moslem-Jewish solidarity in Algiers. Today the Moslems, worked up by Nasserist and Communist radio propaganda, tend to be anti-Jewish. Tomorrow the Algerian Jews will be an all too convenient scapegoat for whoever—European or Moslem—is in need of one. (The conversion of European right-wingers in Algeria to the idea of an anti-Arab “alliance with the Jews” is as superficial and as opportunistic as their belated, ephemeral advocacy of “integration” and “fraternization” with the Moslems in 1958—59. The Catholic review Esprit has warned of the danger of a resurgence of anti-Semitism in France when the Algerian war is over, adding, “The Jews are the only people who are not expecting it.”) The Algerian’ Jews would, surely, be wise to keep an equal distance from both extremist camps, to press for the most explicit guarantees of their rights in the constitution of the Algerian republic—and to maintain the closest possible contact with such Zionist organizations as may be able to come to their aid at short notice if the need arises.
Mr. Barry replies:
In the sense that the 121 who signed the manifesto are no more popular in France than was Thoreau in his America when he damned the Mexican War and went to jail for his civil disobedience, Mr. Blumenfeld is right. They would not be elected as deputies; that was not their goal. What they aimed at—and achieved—was to stir French conscience awake to the moral cost of a dirty, unjust war. Their act contributed to de Gaulle’s decision to negotiate peace, for he, too, is one of France’s intellectuals.
As for terrorism on the part of the Algerian rebels, should the British have practiced torture on the Irish and Jews when these people also resorted to terrorism as a revolutionary tactic during their wars for liberation? And if the British officially countenanced torture of suspects because of the terrorism they themselves were subject to, what should have been the role of the British intellectual of conscience? In other words, does the white man scalp Indians in reprisal? And do his civilized fellow white men say he should? Terrorism is decried by many of the 121, but being French they believe they must be heard on French practices dishonoring France. (Personally I detest the FLN’s use of terrorism. What does Mr. Blumenfeld say of Jewish terrorism in Palestine before independence?)
That is sheer nonsense about Abbas’s “final solution to the Algerian question.” There is some basis for expecting that his attitude, when he is in power in Algeria, will be similar to that of Bourguiba’s in Tunisia—which the Israeli Embassy, here in Paris at least, cannot fault.
Nationalism, Einstein said, is the measles of mankind. Of all nationalisms rampant, one of the least appealing to me is the Arab’s. In Algeria, the Jews had a cruel choice (assuming most couldn’t identify themselves with the Algerian state-to-be, as have some Jews and a good number of more liberal Algerian-born Frenchmen, among whom is Jules Roy and Express’s Algerian-Jewish-French correspondent, Jean Daniel). They could choose the new Algerian nationalism with the risk that Jews would not have the freedom they had under traditional French rule. (I emphasize traditional.) Or they could choose Algerian French nationalism (which is not de Gaulle’s more noble variety, but the transplanted nationalism of men like Malan in South Africa). Actually, those who cry Algérie Française in France and Algeria are generally those who write “Death to the Jews” on the walls. Their nationalism, perhaps because it’s the nationalism of a minority against another race’s majority, is fascist and racist. If they had succeeded in keeping Algeria French, it would have meant the end of traditional France and the freedom for individuals and minorities. Besides being the former Pétainists and Vichyites who applied Nazi regulations against Jews in Algeria during the Occupation (when Mohammed V of Morocco refused, by the way), their victory and rule in France and Algeria would have doomed the Jews in a nationalism as rabid as Nasser’s, no matter what Soustelle says or does to prove he is not an anti-Semite. It seems to me Algerian Jews have but one choice—and the hope that the new Algeria will be another Tunisia and not another Egypt. That would be my own choice, Mr. Blumenfeld seems to choose otherwise.