Naila Missous
Last updated: 28 February, 2014

Jews and Muslims lived side by side in Algeria for hundreds of years. Here’s how it all changed.

Jewish settlement in present-day Algeria can be traced back to the first centuries of the Common Era.

In the 14th century, with the deterioration of conditions in Spain, many Spanish Jews moved to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Due to French occupation of Algeria in 1830, Jews gradually adopted French culture and were granted French citizenship.

On the eve of World War II, there were about 120,000 Jews in Algeria. Jews and Muslims had lived amicably in the country for hundreds of years; side by side they lived as neighbours, school mates, work mates. Hate induced crimes and hostility was a bitter gift given to Algerian society in an attempt to create segregation by the French.

“This was only the first of many awful measures meant to marginalise and persecute them

In 1934, Muslims, incited by events in Nazi Germany, rampaged in Constantine, killing 25 Jews and injuring many more. Starting in 1940, under Vichy rule, Algerian Jews were persecuted socially and economically. The Jews averted total destruction through their initiative and participation in the resistance.

When the Crémieux Decree was abolished on October 7, 1940, the Jews of Algeria lost, overnight, the French citizenship that had been granted to them seventy years earlier. Their once upper hand on the Muslim Algerian no longer meant anything. It did not take long for them to realise that this was only the first of many awful measures meant to marginalise and persecute them.

In order for this citizenship revoke to take place, a definition as to what a ‘Jew’ was had to be created. One must remember that Jews and Muslims of Algeria were all ethnically just that: Algerian. In defining who was a ‘Jew’, the Vichy laws used the notion of race as a criteria. Jews remained Jews as defined in the law even if they converted to Christianity or Islam.

After being granted independence in 1962, the vast majority of Algerian Jews (who were then around 130,000) slowly but surely emigrated to France. Fewer to Israel. Only some 6,500 stayed.

Most of the remaining Jews in present-day Algeria live in Algiers, but there are individual Jews in Oran, Tlemcen and Blida. Jews practice their religion freely, and Jewish community leaders are included in ceremonial state functions.