2. Diasporas and the Reconstruction of Identity
5. The Graduates of Ha-shomer Ha-tza‘ir in Israel
Ha-shomer Ha-tza‘ir and Egyptian Zionism
Although organized Zionist activity began in Egypt at the turn of the century, the movement had a very limited social base until 1942–43. During the 1920s and 1930s, Egyptian Zionism was focused around philanthropic and cultural work, such as funding the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Until the 1936–39 Arab Revolt in Palestine, such activity was not considered inconsistent with patriotic loyalty to Egypt. Zionist activism declined as the pan-Arab reverberations of the Palestinian resistance to Zionist settlement convinced many Jews and non-Jews that there might indeed be a contradiction between Zionism and loyalty to Egypt.
Because most Egyptian Jews were relatively secure and comfortable during the 1930s, few saw the point of risking their position by ostentatious support for Zionism. Moreover, before 1948, the small minority of Jews who identified themselves as political Zionists rarely expressed this in the form of immigration to Palestine. Between 1917 and 1947, only 4,020 Jews had left Egypt for Palestine, and a large proportion of them were Yemenis, Moroccans, or Ashkenazim who had resided only temporarily in Egypt. The strength of Egyptian Zionism at the end of World War II may be measured by the fact that in preparation for the Twenty-Second Zionist Congress in 1946, 7,500 Jews—about 10 percent of the community—purchased shekels, the financial contribution bestowing the right to be represented at the congress.
The concerted efforts of the Zionist emissaries from Palestine who arrived in 1943 and Zionist activists among the allied troops and the Palestinian Jewish Brigade stationed in Egypt gained Zionism a significant base of support in Egypt for the first time. They conveyed the news of the mass murder of European Jewry to Egypt and, by presenting this information in Zionist discursive terms, encouraged Egyptian Jews to draw conclusions about their future based on a particular understanding of the significance of the catastrophe in Europe. This message, especially in its labor Zionist from, appealed to French-educated youth influenced by internationalism and the united front against fascism in the 1930s and 1940s who might otherwise have joined one of the several communist groups.
The most dynamic elements of Zionism, in Egypt as elsewhere, were the youth movements, which advanced a radical vision of Jewish renewal through immigration to Palestine and physical labor in agricultural colonies on the frontier of Jewish settlement—immigration (‘aliyah), settlement (hityashvut), pioneering (halutziut), and self-realization (hagshamah atzmit) in the labor Zionist lexicon. The largest labor Zionist youth movement in Egypt before 1947 was he-Halutz ha-Ahid (The unified pioneer): a new organization created by the Zionist Executive as a means to avoid exporting the factional tensions within MAPAI to the Middle Eastern diaspora. Suppressing the vibrant political debate within the Zionist left preserved the overall dominance of MAPAI and was probably also linked to an assumption that Middle Eastern Jews were too backward politically to appreciate the nuances of such debate. The most disciplined and ideologically committed of the youth movements, and the largest after 1947, was ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir (The young guard), which was affiliated with the Kibutz ha-Artzi federation and later with the Marxist-Zionist MAPAM after its establishment in 1948. The other youth movements active in Egypt were Bnai ‘Akivah (Sons of Rabbi Akiva), affiliated with the labor wing of the National Religious Party, and Betar (Trumpeldor covenant), the youth movement of revisionist Zionism. Less ideologically committed members of the Maccabi and ha-Koah (Strength) sports clubs were also drawn into the network of Zionist activity.
Ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in Egypt was locally known until late 1947 as ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir (The young Hebrew). The movement was established in Cairo in the early 1930s. A small group of senior members left for Palestine and joined Kibutz ‘Ein ha-Horesh in December 1934. For the next several years, like other Zionist activity in Egypt, ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir stagnated, and none of its graduates went to Palestine.
Ezra Zanona (Talmor) was the central figure in revitalizing ha‘-Ivri ha-Tza‘ir in the late 1930s. He wrote to the leaders of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in Palestine requesting that an emissary be sent to provide leadership for the Egyptian movement. In response, Sasha Korin of Kibutz Mesilot was despatched to Cairo in May 1938. Korin and Talmor reorganized ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir and opened a new branch (ken; pl. kinim) in the middle-class suburb of Heliopolis. Relying on educational materials in English that Talmor requested from ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in New York, Talmor and Korin reinforced the ideological and organizational foundations of the movement—a combination of scouting, Marxism, and an intensely emotional collective life emphasizing immigration to Palestine and life in the kibutz. Between 1938 and 1944, five kinim of ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir were established: three in Cairo and two in Alexandria, with 700–800 members by the end of World War II. The movement continued to use this local name until late 1947, when it went underground and adopted the name of the international movement: ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir.
The Heliopolis ken, led by Ezra Talmor, became the largest and most developed in Egypt, with about 150 members by 1945. The ken met at the Abraham Btesh Jewish Community School. Most of the families of students at the Btesh school, like most other middle-class Egyptian Jewish families, were not religiously observant, but “traditional.” They attended synagogue on major holidays, ate matzah at Passover, and observed the Jewish rites of passage. Although the curriculum at the Btesh school included Hebrew and other Jewish subjects, the primary language of instruction was French. Graduates of the school were not usually fluent in Hebrew. Perhaps even more so than other branches, the Heliopolis ken of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir was socially selective, even snobbish. At the older levels, only high school students were accepted for membership, a stringent requirement when secondary education was rare in Egypt. All kinim of the movement imposed strict rules of conduct on their members and expected that senior members would immigrate to Israel and settle on a kibutz.
In this milieu, Jewish culture had a cosmopolitan, radical, French inflection—an outlook that regarded Parisian intellectual and cultural life as the highest (perhaps the only true) form of civilization. The activities of the ken were conducted in French. Even today, many of the movement's graduates living in Israel speak French among themselves at social gatherings in their homes. Recommended reading for leaders of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir included Marx, Engels, Leontiev, Borokhov (the articulator of the Marxist-Zionist synthesis), the French communist daily, L'Humanité, and the classic literature of French, English, and Russian social realism. There was relatively little study of the history and politics of the Middle East or the Arab world.
Ezra Talmor personally exemplified this ambience. His parents had emigrated to Egypt from Aleppo. His grandparents spoke only Arabic, but his parents spoke both Arabic and French at home. The family was not religiously observant, and he received no Jewish education. Ezra's two older brothers studied at a French Catholic school, but Ezra attended the secular Collège Français du Caire. His brothers then transferred there because their parents feared they might be converted to Christianity. Ezra's older brother, Zaki, was not a Zionist. He worked for the National Bank of Egypt, rising through the ranks despite having finished only the eighth grade to become head of the foreign currency department before he left Egypt for Switzerland in 1956. Ezra knew Arabic well enough to read al-Ahram and pass the Arabic section of the Egyptian baccalaureate, but he was more comfortable in French, the main language of instruction during his schooling. Like many members of the Zionist youth movements, Ezra Talmor was attracted to ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir for social reasons before becoming fully committed to its ideology. While serving as the leader of the Heliopolis ken and secretary of the Egyptian movement and working part-time as a clerk in the Crédit Foncier Egyptien, he completed his O and A level exams in preparation for pursuing an external degree in philosophy at London University. He was attracted to European philosophy because he had learned that understanding Marxism required a study of Hegel and dialectics.
Because their social backgrounds and political positions had much in common, there were frequent ideological debates between members of ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir and the Jewish communists. One evening in 1938 two Marxist Jews—an English doctoral student in Orientalism, Bernard Lewis, and Henri Curiel, the future leader of the most influential of the Egyptian communist organizations, HADETU, visited the Heliopolis ken. There, Talmor, Lewis, and Curiel publicly argued in English and French over the relative merits of communism and socialist Zionism. Such exchanges continued between left Zionists and communists in Egypt for the next ten years and more.
From 1942 until November 29, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir had a distinctive position within the Zionist movement opposing the establishment of an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. Instead, the movement favored a binational Arab-Jewish state—a position with some similarities, though based on different arguments, to the stand of the all-Jewish Communist Party of Palestine (Arab party members had left to form the National Liberation League) after 1946 and HADETU. In mid-1947, as the Soviet Union moved toward endorsing partitioning Palestine into two states, Lazare Guetta (Giv‘ati), a leader of ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir in Alexandria, asked the movement headquarters in Palestine to despatch political materials in French and Arabic because they were “in deep discussions with Communist Jewish circles about Zionism,…Bi-nationalism, etc.”  The pressure of constant debate with the communists led ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir to take its Marxism very seriously. In addition, Eli Peleg of Kibutz Gat, the movement's emissary from Palestine from 1946 until late May 1948, encouraged the older members of the movement to adopt a particularly militant version of the movement's ideology that attempted to fuse orthodox pro-Soviet Marxism-Leninism and Zionism.
In theory, ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi struggled to uphold socialism and Zionism as coequal components of their ideology. In practice, a decisive majority of the movement always favored Zionism whenever there was a contradiction between Jewish national interests and socialist internationalism. The movement's conception of bi-nationalism and Arab-Jewish coexistence in Palestine was naive and paternalistic, as is painfully evident from this excerpt from an essay on “colonization” in the internal bulletin of one of the Alexandria groups:
Is that to say that our colonization in Palestine has harmed the Arabs and is to their detriment? No. Categorically not. Our colonization has been a balm for the backward eyes of our Arab cousins, and one may say that they have enjoyed a great benefit from it. With our colonization we hold out our hand to assist our cousins.
The entire essay is framed by the same Eurocentric colonial outlook that informed the entire Zionist movement. Nonetheless, the Arab presence in Palestine and the surrounding countries was far more concrete for these Egyptians than it could be for European or American members of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir, who would probably not have referred to Arabs as their cousins. The fact that a pro-Soviet, Marxist-Zionist organization with the most conciliatory approach to the Palestinian Arabs in the entire Zionist movement became the largest and most active Zionist organization in Egypt is not accidental. Although movement members were themselves in the process of de-Arabizing their culture, they retained a respect for and familiarity with Arab culture that influenced their Zionist outlook in ways that tended to distinguish them from their European and North American comrades.
When ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and two other left Zionist currents—Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah and Left Po‘alei Tzion (Workers of Zion)—fused to form MAPAM in January 1948, ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir abandoned binationalism and agreed to support the establishment of the state of Israel. Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah and most of Left Po‘alei Tzion opposed the creation of an Arab state in Palestine and did not accept the Palestinian Arabs' right to self-determination. Although Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah and Left Po‘alei Tzion were a minority in the united party (a very large one to be sure), their presence blocked MAPAM's adoption of a clear stand on this and other vital issues. The internal struggle among the component elements of MAPAM became an important influence on the fate of many graduates of Egyptian ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir.
By the end of World War II, ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir was sufficiently developed so that the senior members could entrust their younger disciples with continuing the movement's educational work on their own. They formed a gar‘in (nucleus) and made plans to immigrate to Palestine and establish a new kibutz. Between 1945 and 1947, three contingents of about 30 members each left Egypt, leaving about 500 younger members of the movement behind. The second contingent of the gar‘in participated in “Operation Passover” on April 11, 1946, which brought 65–100 immigrants to Palestine illegally. This was the largest single group of Egyptian Jews to reach Palestine before 1948—a good indication of the scale of Zionist activity.
The first contingent of graduates of ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir arrived at Kibutz ‘Ein ha-Shofet in January 1945. ‘Ein ha-Shofet was chosen to welcome them in Palestine and provide agricultural training for the gar‘in because it was the first kibutz of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in North America, a branch of the movement with which the Egyptians had been in contact. The second contingent of the Egyptian gar‘in was received at Kfar Menahem, the second kibutz of North American ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir. After completing its agricultural training, in July 1946 the gar‘in became independent and moved to Ramat ha-Sharon, where it was joined by a group of French-speaking graduates of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir from Belgium, Switzerland, and France. There the gar‘in worked for wages while waiting for the Zionist authorities to allocate a plot of land for its future kibutz.
Members of the gar‘in were recruited into the Palmah (the elite prestate Zionist military unit) on the eve of the UN partition decision. On November 14, 1947, they joined the Negev Brigade and took up a position at Hazali, a he’ahzut (militarily fortified agricultural settlement) about fifteen kilometers southeast of Be’ersheba. Hazali formed the southernmost triangle of Jewish settlement in the Negev together with Revivim and Halutza. It was besieged by the Egyptian army in the summer of 1948, but the gar‘in held its position throughout the war. Members of the gar‘in participated in all the major battles of the Negev against the Egyptian army, and four of them lost their lives in the fighting. The gar‘in members were demobilized after the conclusion of hostilities in April 1949. On September 13, 1949, about fifty to sixty remaining members of the Egyptian gar‘in and an Israeli gar‘in established Kibutz Nahshonim at Migdal Tzedek, near Petah Tikva, on the border between Israel and Jordan.
Ezra Talmor was one of the founders of Nahshonim, and he remained politically active during his first decade on the kibutz. From 1956 to 1959, he served as the representative of MAPAM in London. During this time, his wife, Sascha Talmor, obtained her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of London. At the end of their stay, Ezra found enough time to study for an M.A. in philosophy from the same institution.
While the Talmors were in London, Fenner Brockway, a leader of the left in the Labour Party, reported that he had met with Michel Aflaq, a founder of the Syrian Ba‘th Party. According to Brockway, Aflaq said that he was interested in meeting Israelis but could find no interlocutors. Ezra Talmor contacted Brockway and expressed his willingness to meet Aflaq. Consequently, he met several times with Syrian and Iraqi Ba‘thist medical students in London. They drafted an outline of an Arab-Israeli peace agreement and sent a report of their meetings to Michel Aflaq, Me’ir Ya‘ari, the leader of MAPAM, and Hugh Gaitskill, the leader of the British Labour Party. Talmor reported that Me’ir Ya‘ari rebuked him for acting on his own initiative in this matter.
When he returned to Israel, Talmor wanted to be an activist in the Arab department of MAPAM because he “wanted peace between Jews and Arabs.” He worked briefly with Simha Flapan and New Outlook, a nonparty monthly magazine devoted to promoting Arab-Israeli peace and heavily supported by MAPAM. Then he retired from political activity. Talmor felt that he was excluded from a political career in MAPAM. “At first I thought it was simply racist. They could not accept that an Egyptian Jew would do something in political leadership,” he said. Later he came to feel that his exclusion was due to the cliquishness of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi and MAPAM and the fact that he did not belong to the inner circle of Me’ir Ya‘ari composed of Eastern Europeans.
In the 1960s, Ezra Talmor obtained a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Paris. He and Sascha became professors at Haifa University in the Departments of Philosophy and English, respectively. In 1980, they founded and became editors of History of European Ideas—an interdisciplinary scholarly journal dedicated to studying the history of European cultural exchange and the emergence of the idea of Europe. This intellectual agenda is obviously in harmony with the political project of the European Union. The contents of the journal disclose that the Europe of the contributors and editors is almost exclusively England, France, Italy, and Germany—a traditionalist vision affirming the global centrality of the Western European Renaissance and Enlightenment. Today Ezra Talmor believes, “There is only one conceptual grid to grasp the world. It's a European conceptual grid.”
Although we are all, even those who resist it, in some sense bound up in a European conceptual grid, Ezra Talmor's eager embrace of Europe can also be understood as a particular consequence of both the cosmopolitan, Francophone, left-wing political milieu of his youth in Egypt and in ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the formative experiences of the founders of Kibutz Nahshonim that tended to make French culture a part of their identity as Egyptians. The Egyptian gar‘in had to integrate with contingents of European French speakers and Ashkenazi Israelis. Their comrades fought and died in battle with the army of the land of their birth. They settled on rocky soil on the frontier with Jordan where hard physical labor was required to sustain themselves economically and it was tremendously difficult to remain politically informed and engaged. The social ideal of Israel in the 1950s and 1960s was the melting pot (kibutz galuyot). The members of Kibutz Nahshonim saw it as an important Zionist task to assimilate into Israeli Jewish culture, which was, in fact, heavily Eastern European in many respects. Consequently, although Nahshonim served as a gathering point for many French-speaking Jews, including those from Egypt and North Africa, it did not try to preserve the distinctive cultural characteristics of its founding members, nor was it able to make a distinctive political contribution drawing on the founders' origins in the Arab world.
In 1964, when Egyptian Jews still composed 40 percent of the membership of the kibutz, Ezra Talmor contributed an article titled “A Kibutz of Eastern Jews and Its Mission” to the weekly magazine of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of Nahshonim. He wrote,
From the start, Kibutz Nahshonim was considered by its members and by ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi to have a special character and mission. Most of its members are from Eastern communities and hence it was clear that to their public mission a special feature was added.…[But we] have still not succeeded in realizing the dream of our youth: a kibutz that is active in the political arena mainly among Eastern Jews and Arabs. Nonetheless, our kibutz has still preserved its distinctiveness. Those who enter our homes will feel immediately the characteristic Eastern way of life. Here beats a wide and good Eastern heart which gives the settlement its special character.
This assessment suggests that the kibutz had largely succeeded in adopting the political and cultural norms of Ashkenazi Israel. The only culturally distinctive attributes of Nahshonim Talmor could specify were the typically folkloric expressions of Middle Eastern lifestyle and hospitality. In 1993, I asked Ezra Talmor if he thought something distinguished Nahshonim from other kibutzim of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir as a consequence of the social origins of its founders. The only characteristic of the kibutz that came to his mind then was its food culture. “We know how to cook rice properly. We don't make hard white balls like the Poles. We have pride of rice.”
Lazare Giv‘ati, another founder of Kibutz Nahshonim and former head of the ken of ha-‘Ivri ha-Tza‘ir in the Ramle district of Alexandria, responding to the same question, replied, “Yes. Language and Western culture. We were different from the mainly Eastern European culture in Israel at the time. The entire country was Ashkenazi. We were less rigid and more compromising than the Poles.”  Their former comrade, Sami Shemtov, a founder of Nahshonim who left the kibutz in 1961, agreed that the distinctive aspect of the kibutz was its Francophone cultural character.
For these veterans of Nahshonim, being Egyptian meant being more Westernized than the majority of Israeli Jews. They were proud of their French education and culture, which they considered superior to the dominant Eastern European norms of Israel. Some felt that they had been discriminated against as Middle Eastern Jews, but they integrated into Israel when it was considered unpatriotic and culturally backward to identify this as an issue. Consequently, any feelings of pride they may have had as Egyptians were sublated to pride in their Francophone culture.
Ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the Underground in Egypt
Unlike most other Egyptian Zionist groups, ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir began to operate underground in late 1947 and early 1948. Consequently, only a handful of its senior leaders were apprehended in the roundup of Zionist activists at the start of the Arab-Israeli war in May 1948, and the movement maintained most of its strength. A gar‘in was then preparing to immigrate to Israel to establish the second Egyptian kibutz of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir. Instead of leaving, the gar‘in members remained underground in Egypt to organize Jewish immigration to Israel and to aid the other youth movements, which had been left without most of their leaders. From the end of May 1948 until April 1949, they acted without any direct assistance or guidance from the Zionist authorities in Israel. Ralph Hodara, Vita Castel, and David Harel (Wahba) led the underground work on behalf of the Jewish Agency and its ‘Aliyah Organization (Mosad le-‘Aliyah). They collaborated with Rudolf Pilpul, a lawyer who became the chief intelligence agent for the Israeli military in Egypt after Yolande Gabai Harmer, who had been collecting intelligence in Cairo for the Zionist authorities for the previous four years, was arrested in August 1948. In addition, Menasce Setton's travel agency in Cairo collaborated with the ‘Aliyah Organization on a commercial basis. Benny Aharon and Victor Beressi took responsibility for the educational work of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the other youth movements. The youth leaders reported to Eli Peleg, the former emissary of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi who became director of the Jewish Agency's Department for Middle East Jewry in Paris after he was forced to leave Egypt on May 25, 1948.
In the spring of 1949, Eliyahu Brakha and Haim Sha’ul were sent by the ‘Aliyah Organization to assume responsibility for organizing immigration to Israel. Sha’ul was a graduate of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in Cairo; Brakha had been a member of he-Halutz in Alexandria. As a member of MAPAI, the leading party of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, Brakha had the confidence of the official institutions of the state of Israel and the Zionist movement. The decision to send two emissaries may well have been motivated by the desire not to allow MAPAM to “control” Zionist activity in Egypt. Sha’ul recalled that his departure for Egypt was delayed until MAPAI could find an emissary to join him and that even though he had been waiting in Paris for months before Brakha arrived, Brakha was sent on to Cairo first.
The arrival of the two emissaries transferred the internecine political rivalries of Israel, where Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had excluded MAPAM from the government, to Egypt. Brakha was suspicious of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir despite its considerable success under difficult conditions. Ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir's leaders complained repeatedly and bitterly that Brakha excluded them from the work and refused to hand over monies allocated to them. Eli Peleg protested that MAPAI was conducting “unrestrained warfare” against MAPAM and that there was a “merciless battle” against his department, in which MAPAM members dominated, within the Jewish Agency. As part of his effort to ensure the local dominance of MAPAI, Brakha split the he-Halutz movement by demanding that it abandon its officially nonpartisan status and transform itself into the new youth movement of MAPAI-ha-Bonim (The builders). About half the members of he-Halutz refused and formed Dror-he-Halutz ha-Tza‘ir (Freedom—the young pioneer). Dror was the youth movement of the elements of the Kibutz ha-Me’uhad federation affiliated with MAPAM from 1948 to 1954. It was politically situated between the social democratic MAPAI and ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir. However, for very local reasons, elements of Dror in Egypt developed a line that was to the left of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir (see Chapter 2).
During 1949 and 1950, two contingents of the gar‘in of senior members of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir left Egypt. They made their way to Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer between the summer of 1949 and late 1951. The 80 members of the gar‘in were augmented by perhaps 40 more Egyptians who had not been in ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir but were recruited to join the gar‘in. They left some 350 members behind in Egypt, including 70 seniors. In 1952, a small gar‘in of Egyptian ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir arrived in Kibutz Mesilot, a veteran kibutz established in 1938. They joined the kibutz in September after living there for several months and studying Hebrew. Although ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the underground Zionist movement continued to exist until 1954, the wave of Jewish emigration ebbed after 1950, and no Israeli emissaries arrived after 1952.
The Egyptian Gar‘in and Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer
The first contingent of the second Egyptian gar‘in left Egypt in March 1949, shortly after the armistice between Egypt and Israel was signed. They first went to the Zionist training farm at La Roche in France because the authorities of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi feared that if the gar‘in arrived in Israel while the military situation was unsettled, the members would be immediately drafted into the army and that military service might undermine the social cohesiveness of the gar‘in and disperse the members before they settled on a kibutz. After three months at La Roche, in June-July 1949, the first members of the gar‘in arrived at Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer, which had been founded in 1932 by members of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir from Poland.
The gar‘in planned to establish a new Egyptian kibutz, as their leaders had done at Nahshonim before them, after completing their agricultural training at ‘Ein-Shemer. However, the leadership of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi decided that the gar‘in should remain at ‘Ein-Shemer as a reinforcement (hashlamah) to augment the demographic composition of the veteran kibutz and provide an infusion of young labor power. Economically and socially, the Egyptian gar‘in was a considerable asset to ‘Ein-Shemer. The gar‘in resisted settling at ‘Ein-Shemer as a point of honor; they expected to do no less than their elders at Nahshonim. Movement discipline ultimately led them to accept the ruling of the leadership of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi, but not without producing a certain tension between the gar‘in and the veterans of ‘Ein-Shemer.
Social friction between veterans and newcomers is a normal part of the process of absorbing (or not absorbing) a new gar‘in in a kibutz. The strains that developed between the Egyptians and the kibutz veterans were not necessarily due to the ill will of individuals in either group. My main interest here is how the inevitable divergences between the veterans and the newcomers were constructed as cultural differences relating to the gar‘in's Egyptian identity despite the fact that both the veterans and the newcomers at ‘Ein Shemer had experienced a very similar and ideologically intense education in ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir that created an initial presumption that there was a broad basis of agreement between the kibutz and the young gar‘in.
Among the veterans of ‘Ein-Shemer there were a few outstanding intellectuals and political figures—Yehi’el Harari, Yisra’el Hertz, and Ya‘akov Riftin—but most of them had not completed high school or attended college. Few spoke English, French, or Arabic. Most came from smaller towns outside Warsaw. Though they were fiercely loyal to the ideology of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir, they tended toward an economist (mishkist) understanding of their political mission that regarded the prosperity of their own kibutz as the primary indicator of the success of the socialist revolution in Israel.
The Egyptians were all multilingual Cairenes or Alexandrians. Most were high school graduates, and some had studied at the university level as well. Some came from very comfortable homes and were unused to a rural life of physical labor, although by joining ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and settling on a kibutz, they had committed themselves to such a life as a matter of principle. The Egyptians had a sophisticated political education as a result of their backgrounds in ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and the intense political ferment of post-World War II Egypt. Many of them had read the classics of Marxism-Leninism in French. David Harel recalled that they were “intellectual youth of the diaspora for whom the importance of political organization took precedence over the kibutz idea.…We were more people of ideology…our leaders brought us to believe in pure Marxism-Leninism without compromises.” 
Harel was referring to the particularly strong education in Marxism-Leninism of the Cairene contingent of the gar‘in due to the influence of Eli Peleg. In addition, some senior members of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in Cairo had participated in a forum where they met with members of the various underground communist groups and argued about ideological questions. Several gar‘in members agreed that the Marxist component of their education in Egypt was more prominent than the Zionist component. However, there can be no doubt that they were Zionists because they did not join the Egyptian communist organizations but immigrated to Israel to live on a kibutz.
When the Egyptian gar‘in arrived at ‘Ein-Shemer, they were attracted to Ya‘akov Riftin, a veteran of the kibutz who served as political secretary of MAPAM and one of its representatives in the Knesset. Riftin was also a leader of the left wing of MAPAM, along with ‘Elazar Peri and Moshe Sneh. Their political orientation was to narrow the gap between MAPAM's socialist Zionism and orthodox Soviet-style Marxism-Leninism as much as possible. Many members of the Egyptian gar‘in attended a study group on Marxism-Leninism organized by Riftin.
The left in MAPAM was impelled by an urgency born of the intensification of the cold war after the blockade of Berlin and the outbreak of the Korean War. Sneh and other leaders of the MAPAM left believed that the Red Army would soon enter the Middle East. The survival of the Jewish people would then depend on the existence of a Marxist Zionist leadership capable of marching in the direction of history. The leaders of the central current in MAPAM, Me’ir Ya‘ari and Ya‘akov Hazan, emphasized the primacy of the Zionist component of their ideological perspective. They were less insistently pro-Soviet than Sneh, Riftin, and Peri, but their political style was just as dogmatic. Even Hazan had stated in the Israeli Knesset that the Soviet Union was the “second homeland” of the Jewish people.
The Egyptians arrived with a highly idealized image of kibutz life as well as the inevitable social and cultural baggage of the urban, bourgeois, cosmopolitan culture they had grown up in. The gar‘in was full of youthful audacity and rebelliousness, which were encouraged by ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir but not well tolerated by the kibutz. David Harel, representing the memory of a minority of the gar‘in, recalls that they were received excellently by the kibutz. Most of the gar‘in felt that the veterans of ‘Ein-Shemer did not appreciate “who we were and where we came from.”  Some spoke sharply about the veterans' perceptions that they must be “uneducated Arabs” because they came from Egypt. When it became apparent that most of the Polish veterans were in fact less educated, less politically articulate, and less worldly than the Egyptians, the veterans experienced a severe case of cognitive dissonance. To alleviate their symptoms, some veterans argued that the Egyptians were bourgeois, scornful of physical labor, and too naive to appreciate the economic realities of the kibutz.
Some of the gar‘in members' impressions about the veterans' negative views of them appear to have been validated in retrospect by Miyetek Zilbertal (Moshe Zertal), who served as secretary of the kibutz in the early 1950s. When interviewed by the daughter of a member of ‘Ein-Shemer for a high school project, Zilbertal said, “Their problem was that they did not know Hebrew and the gar‘in was very large. Their preparation in ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir was not great.…The members of the gar‘in were very new in the country…they had not acclimated themselves, but they had a leadership. They did not seek much connection to us.…It is possible that we did not pay sufficient attention to them.”  In accord with the prevailing political culture in ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi, the socially and culturally conservative kibutz tended to define every expression of difference between the Egyptian newcomers and the veterans as a moral and political flaw on the part of the newcomers.
Despite the nominal commitment of the kibutz to egalitarian gender relations, women bore a disproportionate share of the burden of the social difference between urban bourgeois and kibutz life. Several of the Egyptian women brought elegant wardrobes suitable for urban Egyptian social life. Kibutzim of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi then practiced a form of collectivism known as komunah alef, which required that individuals forgo personal ownership of clothing and draw what they required from a collective depository. Some of the Egyptian women were embarrassed by the comments of the veteran kibutz members about their stylish clothing and resented handing over their trousseaus to the kibutz.
There were similar frictions over the fact that the Egyptians organized New Year's eve parties. In Egypt this was considered a fashionable, modern custom adopted by Europeanized Muslims, Jews, and Copts. Because it was not a traditional holiday on the Jewish calendar, veteran kibutz members regarded these celebrations as bourgeois and goyish (non-Jewish).
The tensions between the Egyptian gar‘in and the veterans of ‘Ein-Shemer were exacerbated by the difficult economic circumstances of Israel in the early 1950s, the period of austerity (tzena')—high unemployment, black markets, and stringent food rationing. When Ninette Piciotto Braunstein arrived at ‘Ein-Shemer in October 1951, she thought that she would be received as a heroine because she had spent a month imprisoned in the Cairo Citadel for her work in the Zionist underground. To her amazement, her comrades greeted her by telling her how lucky she had been to have remained in Egypt. “At least you ate,” they said. She found that the gar‘in members had already begun calling the kibutz veterans “anti-Semites” and “racists” because of the way they were treated. “They received us with a great deal of contempt,” Braunstein recalled.
The kibutz wanted Braunstein to work as an English teacher in its school, but in keeping with the ideals of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir, she agreed to become a teacher only if she could do physical work as well. She also asked to engage in some political activity, which she had been educated to regard as an essential part of life. The kibutz and the local MAPAM leaders assigned her to work in the labor office in the nearby town of Karkur. After several days of allocating work to unemployed new immigrants, she was called to a consultation with the kibutz leaders, who were upset with her performance. She had assigned work to applicants who were “not ours.” That is, they were not members of MAPAM. At first she did not understand. “I am a Zionist. They are Jews. Don't they deserve to work too?” she replied. For the kibutz veterans, such political naiveté was yet another expression of the Egyptians' lack of understanding of the realities of life in Israel.
Underprivileged children from poorer neighborhoods of Tel Aviv were brought to ‘Ein-Shemer under the auspices of a shelter program (korat gag) to give them an opportunity to breathe fresh air and benefit from the healthy atmosphere of the kibutz. Members of the gar‘in complained when they noticed that these children were fed less generously than the children of the kibutz veterans. “Don't they deserve to eat jam like your children?” they asked.
Gar‘in members also objected when they learned that the kibutz was selling some of its produce on the black market instead of through the marketing cooperative of the Histadrut. Selling on the black market brought higher prices and direct payment in cash, but the marketing cooperative took weeks or months to settle its accounts. The gar‘in members criticized the kibutz for informally hiring new immigrants from the neighboring ma‘abarah and paying them less than the official minimum wage required by the Histadrut. Veteran kibutz members regarded protest against such practices as naive ignorance of the requirements of economic survival. They resented being criticized as politically deficient by inexperienced newcomers.
All these tensions exploded in the course of the “Sneh affair”—an internal ideological struggle within MAPAM and ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi set off by the arrest of Mordehai Oren, a member of Kibutz Mizra‘ who had travelled to Prague to represent MAPAM at a meeting of the World Federation of Trade Unions in November 1952. The Czechoslovak communist authorities charged Oren with espionage in order to substantiate charges they had previously brought against Rudolf Slansky and other mostly Jewish party leaders who were accused of being bourgeois nationalists and Zionist agents. The Slansky and Oren trials were anti-Semitic frame-ups whose political objective was to smash any residual Titoist tendencies and impose the absolute authority of the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe.
Me’ir Ya‘ari and Ya‘akov Hazan, the leaders of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi and the centrist current in MAPAM, supported by the Le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah faction, demanded that MAPAM members unite behind a resolution denouncing the Prague trial. The left wing of MAPAM, led by Moshe Sneh, Ya‘akov Riftin, and ‘Elazar Peri, refused to endorse a resolution that could be interpreted as anticommunist or anti-Soviet. Speaking at a meeting of the Political Committee of MAPAM on November 23, 1952, Riftin argued, “It is impossible to be an inseparable part [of the world of revolution—the slogan of the left in MAPAM] without being for Prague.” Sneh presented the Prague trial as “a choice between national solidarity and international solidarity,” and he believed that “in this matter there ought to have been international solidarity.” 
After efforts to compromise failed, in January 1953 the left wingers announced they were forming a new independent faction in the party, the Left Section. Although MAPAM was then organized on the basis of factions, party leaders demanded that this faction dissolve and that its leaders relinquish their public offices and party positions. When the Left Section refused this ultimatum, it was expelled from MAPAM. At the last minute, loyalty to ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and to their kibutzim induced Riftin and Peri to accept the decisions of the leaders of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi and MAPAM. They remained members of their kibutzim and the party, though they never again wielded any significant influence. Moshe Sneh, who was not a kibutz member, led several hundred activists out of MAPAM to form the Left Socialist Party. A year and a half later, Sneh and some 250 members of the Left Socialist Party joined the Communist Party of Israel.
Because ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi was affiliated with MAPAM and practiced a form of democratic centralism known as ideological collectivism, the split in the party had immediate and severe repercussions within its kibutzim, especially ‘Ein-Shemer, where the left was very strong because of the presence of Ya‘akov Riftin and the Egyptian gar‘in. On January 4, 1953, the Executive Committee of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi decided that every kibutz should administer a three-part referendum/loyalty oath requiring each member to affirm the following: (1) The kibutz supports the resolution of the MAPAM Council denouncing the Prague trial. (2) The kibutz confirms the “absolute obligation” of all members of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi to support the decisions of MAPAM and ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi on the basis of ideological collectivism. (3) The kibutz denounces factional activity in the kibutz and in ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi. Dissidents in the kibutzim were subjected to intense social, political, and economic pressures to conform. Consequently, the vote of 13. percent or 1,334 of the members of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi against clause one of the referendum represented a substantial ideological crisis in the movement. The leaders considered this a statement of support for the line of Riftin and Peri, an undesirable, but legitimate opinion. A vote against clauses two and three was considered an expression of support for the line of Moshe Sneh and the Left Section. Those who persisted in these positions—between 160 and 220 kibutz members—were expelled from the kibutzim of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi.
A large majority of the Egyptian gar‘in at ‘Ein-Shemer, especially its leadership, identified with the political positions of Riftin or Sneh. During the factional struggle in MAPAM, members of the gar‘in had attended meetings sponsored by the Left Section in Tel Aviv along with members of neighboring kibutzim. Veteran kibutz members regarded this as subversion and establishing an “underground” political opposition within the kibutz.
One of the activities that most upset the veterans of ‘Ein-Shemer and the leaders of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi was the establishment of political ties by gar‘in members with their Palestinian Arab neighbors in the villages of Wadi ‘Ara. “They had already succeeded in acting in the Arab sector. It was not only an internal matter,” explained Miyetek Zilbertal, the kibutz secretary. The fear expressed in this comment reflects MAPAM's complex relationship of paternalism and alliance with the Arab citizens of Israel. The political activity of the Egyptians was a threat to the stability of this volatile mixture because the Arabic speakers among them had direct and unmediated access to Arabs and could form independent conclusions about prevailing opinions in the Arab community and the effectiveness of MAPAM's work there.
"I was in contact with the Arabs in “Ar‘ara, in Kafr Kar‘a, and it is all lies,” explained David Harel.
I speak Arabic, and my comrades and I went several times to ‘Ar‘ara and Kafr Kar‘a.…We went as ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir. We invited them to ‘Ein-Shemer. We sang and danced together, and I lectured in Arabic on socialism and American imperialism in the name of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and MAPAM. All this was a year, maybe more, before the Slansky affair and the affair of Oren, Sneh, and Riftin. Before they ever dreamed of working with the Arabs. We believed in the brotherhood of nations [one of MAPAM's slogans], and in order to help them economically we helped them prepare chicken feed. I knew how because I worked in the chicken coop.…We were [politically] active in Egypt and we wanted to be active in Israel, and the area of activity was around ‘Ein-Shemer as volunteers.
Reports of David Harel's activities in Wadi ‘Ara composed by more conservative members of MAPAM during the height of the internal struggle in the party contradict his memory of the significance of his contacts with the Arab neighbors of ‘Ein-Shemer. Eli‘ezer Be’eri, the head of MAPAM's Arab Affairs Department, wrote to the leaders of ‘Ein-Shemer that in January 1953 David Wahba (Harel) and Moshe Bilaysh, members of the Egyptian gar‘in, had encouraged Arab members of MAPAM in ‘Ar‘ara to organize a demonstration of the unemployed without first requesting authorization from the institutions of the party. The MAPAM leaders subsequently agreed to the action, and the demonstration was held on January 25. Afterwards, Wahba and Bilaysh returned to ‘Ar‘ara to explain to MAPAM members there that the party was split and unable to help them. They advised them to contact Rustum Bastuni, a leading Arab party member who supported Sneh and the Left Section. Be’eri regarded this as factional organizing for the Left Section. Therefore, he planned not to deliver the entry permits to the villages of Wadi ‘Ara that he had requested for the two Egyptians from the military government (all the Arab villages of Israel were then under military restrictions that required permits for anyone to enter and exit), although the permits had originally been requested on the basis of their tasks for MAPAM in the villages.
‘Ein-Shemer held its referendum on March 14–17. By then, the secretariat of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi had revised the wording of the text, making it even harsher. There seems to have been an understanding between the kibutz secretariat and the secretariat of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi before the referendum was administered that members of ‘Ein-Shemer who voted against any of the clauses would be expelled from the kibutz. The kibutz veterans were probably exasperated by the oppositional activity of the Egyptian gar‘in by then and anxious to cut their losses and return to normalcy. Twenty-three members of the Egyptian gar‘in did vote against the referendum, and the following day the general meeting of the kibutz decided to remove their names from the work schedule, which was tantamount to expulsion. In response, on March 28, the Egyptians declared a hunger strike. Embarrassed and confused about how to handle a situation that overtaxed the kibutz's repertoire of social remedies, ‘Ein-Shemer sealed itself off from outside contact. In this superheated and isolated environment, the confrontation between the veterans and the Egyptians led to an exchange of blows. The hunger strike ended the next day. Twenty-two Egyptians signed an agreement to leave the kibutz after negotiating terms for financial compensation.
Among the Egyptians expelled from ‘Ein-Shemer were many former leading members of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir, including several who have been previously mentioned in this chapter and whose activities in Egypt would be regarded as heroic in Zionist terms: Haim (Vita) Castel, Benny Aharon, David Wahba (Harel), Haim Aharon, ‘Ada Yedid (Aharoni), Ninette Piciotto Braunstein, and Victor (David) Beressi. In the following weeks and months, most of the other members of the Egyptian gar‘in left ‘Ein-Shemer as well. When I interviewed members of ‘Ein-Shemer in 1993, only ten members of the original Egyptian gar‘in remained there.
A substantial number of Egyptians were also expelled from Kibutz Mesilot in the course of the Sneh affair. Months after the referendum was held, one of the members of the Egyptian gar‘in at Mesilot participated in the founding congress of the Left Socialist Party. This was considered a violation of ideological collectivism, and the kibutz general meeting decided to expel him from the kibutz. Several members of the gar‘in walked out of the general meeting in solidarity with their friend and comrade. Twenty-six of them signed a petition to the secretariat of the kibutz saying they viewed themselves as expelled from the kibutz for ideological reasons. On June 5, 1953, nineteen Egyptians held a hunger strike in the kibutz dining hall. That evening, the general meeting voted to expel them. Twenty-four Egyptians eventually left Mesilot over the Sneh affair. The kibutz secretariat's original official account of the Sneh affair at Mesilot minimized its significance. A more candid statement on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Mesilot frankly admitted that most of the Egyptian gar‘in was expelled.
The social background and education in ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir of the expelled members of Mesilot were similar to those of their older comrades at ‘Ein-Shemer. Consequently, the expulsions of the Egyptians from ‘Ein-Shemer cannot be explained solely as the result of the normal social frictions between the gar‘in and the kibutz veterans, although such tensions probably did motivate the mass departure of the remainder of the Egyptians after the expulsion of the ideological leaders of the gar‘in. The similarity between the events at ‘Ein-Shemer and Mesilot suggests that the political and cultural formation of Egyptian ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir was incompatible with the orientation of MAPAM and ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi once the synthesis of Zionism and socialism became strained by the intensifying cold war and the harsh actualities of intra-Jewish ethnic relations and Arab-Jewish relations in Israel.
The identification of Egyptians with “leftism” in the kibutzim was enhanced by the fact that at Kibutz Yir'on, an affiliate of ha-Kibutz ha-Me’uhad, a federation largely loyal to the le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah faction of MAPAM, a similar struggle broke out over the Prague trial and the Sneh affair. An Egyptian gar‘in of about forty members arrived in Yir'on in 1950. They had been in he-Halutz in Egypt, and many of them had moved leftward after Eli Brakha arrived and split the movement. During the Sneh affair, ha-Kibutz ha-Me’uhad conducted a referendum among its members similar to the one organized in ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi. Seven of the Egyptians at Yir'on were expelled for holding positions sympathetic to Sneh. They and twenty other Egyptians left Yir'on and joined Yad Hanah, the only kibutz in Israel that was prepared to welcome supporters of the Left Socialist Party and the Communist Party.
Autobiography and Ethnography
I met several of the former members of the Egyptian gar‘in at ‘Ein-Shemer in Tel Aviv at Ninette Piciotto Braunstein's home in June 1993, where some spoke bitterly about their time on the kibutz. My ten years as a member of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir and my familiarity with Egypt allowed me to feel like a full partner in the discussion. Their vocabulary and conceptual universe were intimately familiar to me from my own personal history. Their ordeal on ‘Ein-Shemer was far more intense than my encounter with kibutz life and had been framed by the issues of Stalinism and the cold war that were no longer relevant when I lived in Israel. But their tribulations resonated eerily with my experiences on Kibutz Lahav. At Lahav, cultural and political clashes between my gar‘in of North Americans and the tzabar founders of the kibutz led to the departure of virtually all the Americans within a few years of our arrival in 1970. I felt a deep emotional link with the Egyptians expelled from ‘Ein-Shemer because we had shared similar ideals and disappointments in our teens and early twenties. We were now in different physical and political spaces, but sharing the same beginnings in life easily allowed us to make sense of each other's trajectories.
The conclusions drawn by those in the room since our departures from kibutzim were not politically uniform. Sitting in Ninette Braunstein's living room and enjoying her hospitality as we reminisced, this seemed less important than it undoubtedly would have been at other times and places. In any case, our views on politics in Israel were not incommensurable. Despite the undeniable ideological differences among us, which have constituted sharp lines of demarcation in Israeli politics in certain periods, we could, in a vague and general way, all be considered part of the same camp. I sensed that we all understood this and took pleasure in it.
1. Gudrun Krämer, “Zionism in Egypt, 1917–1948,” in Amnon Cohen and Gabriel Baer (eds.), Egypt and Palestine: A Millennium of Association (868–1948) (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, 1984), p. 354. [BACK]
2. Shlomo Barad, “ha-Pe‘ilut ha-tzionit be-mitzrayim, 1917–1952,” Shorashim ba-mizrah 2 (1989):105. [BACK]
3. Ibid., pp. 94–95. [BACK]
4. Biographical information on Ezra Talmor and all the quotes are taken from interviews conducted on Feb. 22 and Mar. 16, 1993, at Kibutz Nahshonim. [BACK]
5. Barad, “ha-Pe‘ilut ha-tzionit be-mitzrayim,” p. 84. [BACK]
6. Mitzrayim, tnu‘at ha-shomer ha-tza‘ir, HH 18–2.1(4) “Nahshonim-Erev zikaron le-aharon keshet za‘l be-30 le-moto, 1983”[same as 97.10 (5 ‘ayin)]. [BACK]
7. Testimony of Ezra Talmor (interviewed by Shlomo Barad, Sept. 14, 1983) gives the date as 1940: YTM, Chativa 25/‘ayin. Mekhal 7. Tik 1. When I spoke to Ezra Talmor in 1993, he dated this incident to 1938. This is, in fact, the more likely date. [BACK]
8. Lazare Guetta [Giv‘ati], Mazkirut hanhagah ‘ironit aleksandriah la-hanhagah ha-‘elyonah, May 27, 1947, “Hanhagah ‘elyonah yisra’el, mitzrayim, 1944–1947,” HH 31.78(1), vol. 1. [BACK]
9. Ha-‘ivri ha-tza‘ir, kvutzat birya, aleksandriah, Iton Birya, [1940s], MHT, T-12.2. [BACK]
10. See Joel Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948–1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). [BACK]
11. Barad, “ha-Pe‘ilut ha-tzionit be-mitzrayim,” pp. 103–104, gives the figure of 200 immigrants, but Michael M. Laskier, The Jews of Egypt, 1920–1970: In the Midst of Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and the Middle East Conflict (New York: New York University Press, 1992), p. 115, presents credible evidence to support the lower figure. [BACK]
12. “35 be-Nahshonim: alon hag ha-35” (1984) and a brief history of the kibutz in French, source not indicated, HH 101.55.1-Nahshonim, (2) and (4). [BACK]
13. Ezra [Talmor], “Kibutz ‘edot-mizrah ve-yi‘udav,” ha-Shavu‘a ba-kibutz ha-artzi, Oct. 16, 1964, p. 11. [BACK]
14. Lazare Giv‘ati, interview, Nahshonim, Feb. 26, 1993. [BACK]
15. Sami Shemtov, interview, Herzliah, Feb. 27, 1993. [BACK]
16. Haim Sha’ul, interview, Nahshonim, Mar. 16, 1993. [BACK]
17. Hanhagah rashit be-mitzrayim, la-hanhagah ha-‘elyonah, Jan. 13, 1950, and Hanhagah rashit, ha-shomer ha-tza‘ir la-hanhagah ha-‘elyonah, Paris, Jan. 31, 1950, HH 31.78(1) Hanhagah ‘elyonah, mitzrayim, 1948–50, vol. 2. [BACK]
18. Peleg le-mazkirut ha-hanhagah ha-‘elyonah shel ha-shomer ha-tza‘ir u-le-mazkirut ha-kibutz ha-artzi, July 4, 1950, Ha-makhlakah le-‘inyanei ha-yehudim be-mizrakh ha-tikhon, Paris, Eli Peleg (1950–51), vol. 2., HH 31.82(5). [BACK]
19. On the antagonism between Brakha and Sha’ul, see Hanhagah rashit be-mitzrayim, la-hanhagah ha-‘elyonah, Jan. 13, 1950, and Hanhagah rashit, ha-shomer ha-tza‘ir la-hanhagah ha-‘elyonah, Paris, Jan. 31, 1950, Hanhagah ‘elyonah, mitzrayim, 1948–50, vol. 2., HH 31.78(1). On Eli Peleg's complaints about anti-MAPAM sentiment, see Peleg le-mazkirut ha-hanhagah ha-‘elyonah shel ha-shomer ha-tza‘ir u-le-mazkirut ha-kibutz ha-artzi, July 4, 1950, Ha-makhlakah le-‘inyanei ha-yehudim be-mizrakh ha-tikhon, Paris, Eli Peleg (1950–51), vol. 2., HH 31.82(5). MAPAI decided to form ha-Bonim as a result of le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah joining MAPAM. He-halutz had sent members to kibutzim of ha-Kibutz ha-Me’uhad, which was affiliated with le-Ahdut ha-‘Avodah. Now that this movement was part of MAPAM (albeit only briefly until 1954), MAPAI wanted to establish a new youth movement loyal to itself. [BACK]
20. “Din ve-heshbon ‘al ha-tnu‘ah be-mitzrayim,” hanhagah ha-rashit shel ha-shomer ha-tza‘ir, mitzrayim, no date, received in Jewish Agency on Jan. 23, 1950, CZA S20/112/230/71/18394. [BACK]
21. Nurit Burlas (Jeanette Salama), interview, Kibutz ‘Ein Shemer, Mar. 4, 1993. [BACK]
22. David Harel, interviewed by ‘Einav Grosman, Oct. 31, 1988, “Parashat sneh ve-hishtakfutah be-kibutz ‘ein-shemer,” (Mevo'ot ‘Eiron High School, Bagrut project, Jan. 1988), p. 27. [BACK]
23. Perla Cohen, interview, Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer, Mar. 4, 1993. [BACK]
24. Shlomo Burlas, Nurit Burlas, Perla Cohen, and Yitzhak Danon, interview, Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer, Mar. 4, 1993. [BACK]
25. David Harel, interviewed by Grosman, Parashat sneh, p. 26. [BACK]
26. Nurit Burlas, interview, Kibutz ‘Ein-Shemer, Mar. 4, 1993. Others who expressed similar opinions were ‘Ada and Haim Aharoni, interview, Haifa, Mar. 5, 1993; Ninette Piciotto Braunstein, interview, Tel Aviv, Mar.8, 1993; Zvi and Regine Cohen, interview, Tel Aviv, June 4 1993. [BACK]
27. Ninette Piciotto Braunstein, interview, Tel Aviv, Mar. 8, 1993; Regine Cohen and others, interview, Tel Aviv, June 4, 1993. [BACK]
28. Miyetek Zilbertal, interviewed by Grosman, Parashat sneh, pp. 20, 22. [BACK]
29. Benny Aharon and David Harel, interview, Tel Aviv, Mar. 25, 1993. [BACK]
30. Ninette Piciotto Braunstein, interview, Tel Aviv, Mar. 8, 1993. [BACK]
31. Ibid. [BACK]
32. Ibid. [BACK]
33. Braunstein, interview, Tel Aviv, June 4, 1993. [BACK]
34. Braunstein, interview, Mar. 8, 1993. [BACK]
35. Haim Aharon, interview, Haifa, Mar. 5, 1993. [BACK]
36. See Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? pp. 130–34. [BACK]
37. “Yeshivot ha-va‘adah ha-politit ve-ha-medinit,” Nov. 23, 1952, HH 90.66 bet (8). [BACK]
38. The results of the vote and the total number of expulsions are based on Eli Tzur, “Parashat prag: ha-hanhagah ve-ha-opozitziah ba-kbh‘a,” Me’asef 18 (June 1988):51–52. Tzur's figures are drawn from the Ya‘akov Hazan papers, which were not available when I was conducting research for Was the Red Flag Flying There? Based on partial and different documentation, I estimated that over 20 percent of the members of ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi voted against clause one and over 200 members were expelled for political opposition: Was the Red Flag Flying There? pp. 132–33. Grosman, Parashat sneh, p. 18, cites the same article by Tzur but incorrectly quotes him as saying that between 160 and 200 individuals left their kibutzim. This understatement, perhaps a Freudian error, expresses a persistent tendency to minimize the significance of this entire affair among ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir loyalists. All the published numbers underestimate the strength of the left opposition in ha-Kibutz ha-Artzi because they are based on public votes, and many quiet sympathizers may not have expressed themselves if they were unable to contemplate leaving their kibutz for economic or other reasons. [BACK]
39. Grosman, Parashat sneh, p, 23. [BACK]
40. Ibid. [BACK]
41. David Harel, interviewed by Grosman, Parashat sneh, pp. 28–29. [BACK]
42. Two notes from Eli‘ezer Be’eri to Miyetek Zilbertal, Feb. 5, 1953, facsimiles in Grosman, Parashat sneh, appendix 12, p. 57; Eli‘ezer be’eri la-va‘adah ha-politit, ‘ein-shemer, Feb. 15, 1953, facsimile in Grosman, Parashat sneh, appendix 11, p. 56. [BACK]
43. Correspondence between Natan Peled, mazkirut ha-kibutz ha-artzi and mazkirut of ‘Ein-Shemer, Mar. 12, 1953, and between Natan Peled and Miyetek Zilbertal, Mar. 12, 1953, facsimiles in Grosman, Parashat sneh, appendix 6, p. 51. [BACK]
44. These events were reported extensively in the Israeli press. See, for example, ha-Shavu‘ah ba-kibutz ha-artzi, Apr. 9, 1953; ‘Al ha-mishmar, Ma‘ariv, and Yedi‘ot aharonot, Mar. 29, 1953; Kol ha-‘Am, Apr. 7, 1953. [BACK]
45. Facsimile in Grosman, Parashat sneh, appendix 10, p. 55. [BACK]
46. Mazkirut Kibutz Mesilot, “Ha’emet ‘al ha-me'ora‘ot be-kibutz mesilot,” ha-Shavu‘a ba-kibutz ha-artzi, June 12, 1953; “30 shanah le-kibutz mesilot, 1938–1968,” Ba-bayit, no. 339, Jan.17, 1969, HH 101.47.1-K. Mesilot, Toldot. [BACK]
47. Esty Comay, interview, Tel Aviv, Mar. 21, 1993. [BACK]
48. Nelly and Benny Aharon, Susie and Albert ‘Amar, Ninette Piciotto Braunstein, Regine and Tzvi Cohen, Esty Comay, Ruby and Eli Danon, Bertha Kastel, Pninah and Izzy Mizrahi, interview, Tel Aviv, June 4, 1993. [BACK]
6. The Communist Emigres in France
In the late 1930s, Jews participated prominently in the revival and reformation of the Egyptian communist movement. They founded and led several of the most important rival organizations. Perhaps 1,000 or more Jews participated in the Egyptian communist movement from the 1930s to the 1950s. Thousands more were sympathetic to Marxist ideas in one form or another. The substantial Jewish presence among the members and supporters of the communist movement has encouraged the common misperception that Egyptian communism had no social base among Muslims. Though Jews were highly disproportionately represented in the movement, they were far from a majority of its adherents. Secularization of the prophetic message of social justice, the global challenge of fascism, and the urgent necessity of resisting Nazi anti-Semitism drew many Jews into the ambit of Marxist politics during the era of the united front against fascism. In Egypt, international developments as well as local conditions—the continuing British occupation, the limitations of a parliamentary democracy tightly supervised by the monarchy and the British Embassy, the intensification of the Palestinian-Zionist conflict, and the increasing numbers of unemployed high school and university graduates frustrated by the lack of appropriate opportunities—radicalized political life from the late 1930s on. Excluded by definition from both Islamist currents like the Muslim Brothers or the quasi-fascist Young Egypt, Jewish youth searching for political expression in the 1930s and 1940s (a minority of the community, to be sure) increasingly turned toward Marxism or Zionism or, as in the case of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir, a combination of the two.
The most outstanding Egyptian Jewish communist leader was the legendary and charismatic Henri Curiel (1914–78), the younger son of the Cairo banker, Daniel Curiel. The Curiel family held Italian citizenship, but upon reaching the age of majority in 1935, Henri Curiel became a citizen of Egypt. However, he had been educated in the Jesuit Collège des Frères in Cairo and never became fluent in Arabic, despite his deep attachment to Egypt. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Curiel was active in several antifascist political formations based in the mutamassir communities before he formulated a strategy of Egyptianizing the communist movement by giving priority to the Egyptian national struggle against British imperialism: “the line of popular and democratic forces.” In 1943, he founded the Egyptian Movement for National Liberation (HAMETU-al-Haraka al-Misriyya li’l-Tahrir al-Watani), which formed the core of what became Egypt's most influential communist organization for most of the next twenty years.
Another Francophone Jew, Hillel Schwartz, founded the Iskra (Spark) organization, named after Lenin's Bolshevik newspaper, in 1942. Iskra was the largest of the communist organizations in the mid-1940s, with a high proportion of middle- and upper-class intellectuals, Jews, and other mutamassirun among its members. Jewish students at elite French secondary schools recruited their Muslim and Coptic schoolmates into Iskra through a combination of political-intellectual and social activities that enabled young men and women to mix freely, openly defying prevailing social norms. There were many premarital sexual affairs and mixed couples (Jewish-Muslim or Coptic-Jewish) in the communist milieu, especially Iskra—a practice that anticommunists and communists critical of Jewish influence in the movement considered an expression of the culturally alien character of Marxism or the baleful effects of the prominence of foreigners in the movement. Curiel personally opposed Iskra's social style, but his critics nonetheless considered him, his organization, and sometimes Jews in general responsible for it.
Early in 1947, Iskra absorbed People's Liberation (Tahrir al-Sha‘b), an organization founded and led by Marcel Israel, a Jew of Italian citizenship. Then, in May, Curiel's HAMETU united with Iskra to form the Democratic Movement for National Liberation (HADETU-al-Haraka al-Dimuqratiyya li’l-Tahrir al-Watani). Three Jews—Curiel, Schwartz, and Aimée Setton—were among the fifteen members of the first HADETU Central Committee. Marcel Israel had been willing to assume leadership of a preparty Marxist formation, but refused to join the Central Committee of HADETU, which saw itself as the nucleus of the Egyptian communist party, even though, as Curiel himself admitted, Israel was “by far the most Egyptianized, the only one who knew Arabic perfectly” of the three Jewish communist leaders. Nonetheless, Israel insisted, “We were foreigners. He [Curiel] couldn't accept that.” 
A fourth communist tendency, grouped around the magazine al-Fajr al-Jadid (New dawn), was founded by three Jews—Yusuf Darwish, Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d, and Raymond Douek. When the New Dawn group established a formal organization in 1946, it recognized the problematic status in the communist movement of Jews, Greeks, and other mutamassirun who were not educated in Arabo-Egyptian culture and resolved it by what they called “the corridor” (al-mamarr): Those who mastered Arabic and identified with Egypt passed through the corridor, were considered 100 percent Egyptian, and were admitted to the organization; those who did not were excluded. The textile workers of the northern Cairo suburb of Shubra al-Khayma and many other labor activists were satisfied by this procedure. Their high regard for Yusuf Darwish, who served as legal counsel for several trade unions in the 1940s and 1950s, was undiminished by his Jewish origins. Intellectuals in the communist movement tended to be more concerned about the Jewish origins of Darwish, Sa‘d, and Douek, even after they had all formally converted to Islam.
The smallest of the major communist tendencies in the late 1940s and early 1950s was the Communist Party of Egypt (al-Hizb al-Shuyu‘i al-Misri), popularly known as al-Raya (The flag) after the name of its underground newspaper. Al-Raya was composed largely of intellectuals and a disproportionate number of Copts from middle Egypt, where the organization had some local strength. Its leaders, Fu’ad Mursi, Isma‘il Sabri ‘Abd Allah, and Sa‘d Zahran, vehemently criticized Curiel and the role of Jews in the Egyptian communist movement. Mursi spoke of the “very bad experience with Jews in the Egyptian communist movement. It was a symbol of dissolution: sexual dissolution, moral dissolution.”  Consequently, al-Raya, refused to admit Jews to its ranks.
Thus, in the period of the movement's reformation, there was considerable disagreement among Egyptian Jewish communists and their comrades about their identity and its political consequences. Marcel Israel believed that Jews (at least those with a European education like himself) were foreigners and therefore not eligible to lead the communist movement. The Jews of New Dawn believed that mastering Arabic and embracing the Egyptian national cause would eliminate any problematic consequences of the circumstances of their birth. They considered themselves Egyptians in all respects and were accepted as such by their organization. Schwartz and Curiel and those close to them rejected the view that foreigners were ineligible in principle to lead the Egyptian communist movement. They felt that their ethnonational identity, however defined, should not pose an impediment to their participation at all levels of the communist movement because Marxism-Leninism was an internationalist ideology. Hence, the ethnic identity of the Egyptian movement's leaders was merely a tactical question. It was politically desirable to promote indigenous Egyptian leaders, but this did not mean others should be systematically excluded. Curiel, in particular, had actively and with considerable success promoted the Egyptianization of the movement. He recruited many Egyptian workers and intellectuals to HAMETU and HADETU and influenced several of them enormously despite his broken Arabic.
The Palestine Question and the Jewish Communists
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War forced the Jewish communists to confront their identity status and its political consequences. According to Raymond Stambouli, a member of HADETU close to Curiel,
The war in Palestine was a staggering blow to us.…It marked the end of a dream that had been coming true. We had thought of ourselves as Egyptians, even while admitting that Egyptians saw us as foreigners. Now it was all over. Now we weren't just foreigners, but Jews, therefore the enemy, a potential fifth column. Could any of us have foretold that?
The unity of HADETU lasted less than a year and may very well have been undermined by disputes over the Palestine question, though this remains a hotly contested question closely linked to the identity status of the Jewish communists. Curiel's leadership of HADETU was challenged by Shuhdi ‘Atiyya al-Shafi‘i—the first Muslim intellectual to become a leader in Iskra and the editor of HADETU's weekly newspaper, al-Jamahir (The masses)—and Anouar Abdel-Malek-a Coptic intellectual who subsequently gained considerable recognition as the author of a critically supportive analysis of the Nasser regime, Egypt: Military Society, first published in France, where Abdel-Malek has lived since the mid-1950s. They formed a faction known as the Revolutionary Bloc (al-Kutla al-Thawriyya). The contending explanations for this split in HADETU, the first of several, imply different assessments of how great an impediment the Jewish identity of many HADETU members was to their political effectiveness.
HADETU, like almost all communist formations in the Arab world, followed the lead of the Soviet Union and endorsed the November 29, 1947, decision of the UN General Assembly to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The first challenge to Curiel's leadership occurred during the debate over the partition of Palestine. The struggle against the Jewish leadership was fused with opposition to the UN partition plan and the creation of the state of Israel. The obvious, but incorrect, conclusion of many of Curiel's rivals was that HADETU had endorsed the partition of Palestine because several of its leaders were Jewish and perhaps even secretly Zionists. Sa‘d Zahran's history of Egyptian politics emphasized the extent to which the Jewish identity of Curiel and others in the HADETU leadership and the disagreement over the partition of Palestine were factors in the breakup of HADETU. Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, a former communist who was never a follower of Curiel, remembered that al-Shafi‘i and Abdel-Malek were so shocked that the government and others attacked communism as Zionism that they took an extreme anti-Jewish line that he thought some might consider “anti-Semitic a bit…a violent reaction against the feeling that the whole movement was held and perhaps manipulated by Jews and that their commitment to Marxism was colored by things that might be alien to an authentic Egyptian Marxism.”  More recently, Sid-Ahmed noted with sadness, “There was an element of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian communist movement.” 
Curiel and those close to him never agreed that the Palestine question was an issue in the split in HADETU because this would be tantamount to admitting that their Jewishness ultimately limited their roles in the Egyptian communist movement. They believed that they supported the partition of Palestine, as nearly all communists around the world did, for internationalist motives and out of loyalty to the Soviet Union. Indeed, there is no evidence that Curiel and his supporters had any secret Zionist sympathies, as many of their opponents in the Egyptian communist movement, including some Jews, implied in the polemical exchanges among the various organizations. Curiel and his supporters, like all orthodox communists, first followed the lead of the Soviet Union and were subsequently motivated by the desire to find a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that would allow Egypt and its communist movement to advance beyond the stage of national liberation to addressing the social agenda.
Curiel characterized the struggle against his leadership as an expression of Egyptian national chauvinism with no particularly anti-Jewish element:
Unity brought some very brilliant intellectuals [i.e., al-Shafi‘i and Abdel-Malek from Iskra] into HADETU. They aspired to lead the party. On the one hand, as intellectuals they were a little chauvinist and saw no reason why Egyptianization should not be completed by the elimination of Yunis [Curiel's nom de guerre]. On the other hand, if the role of foreigners was to be reduced to zero, they had a tendency to underestimate the stage of proletarianization; for them the essential was to be Egyptian.
In this passage from his unpublished autobiography, written in France in 1977, Curiel apparently accepted that he and other Jews like him in the movement were “foreigners.” He did not here specify what attributes (or lack thereof) made them so, perhaps because he considered this both self-evident and unimportant. Curiel's argument against al-Shafi‘i and Abdel-Malek relies simply on the communist movement's ideological commitment to proletarian internationalism and its ideological rejection of nationalism.
Upon invading Israel together with the other Arab states on May 15, 1948, the Egyptian government proclaimed martial law. Al-Jamahir was closed; hundreds of communists, including Curiel and other Jews, were arrested along with members of most other oppositional political tendencies. Roughly as many Jewish communists as Zionists were detained in the Huckstep, Abu Qir, and al-Tur internment camps during 1948 and 1949. Their fierce ideological debates continued in detention while the government saw them as members of the same political camp because both groups endorsed the UN partition plan for Palestine.
The political prisoners were all released by the time the Wafd returned to power in January 1950. Maneuvering among the contradictions within the Wafd and the new government, HADETU began to reorganize with considerable success. The Wafd's devotion to democracy was circumscribed by its commitment to preserve the monarchical regime, so in response to the resurgence of the communist movement, Henri Curiel was arrested again on July 25, 1950. Despite his having held Egyptian citizenship for fifteen years, the court ordered him deported “as a foreigner dangerous to public security.”  On August 26, he was placed in a locked cabin on an Italian ship that eventually disgorged him in Genoa.
Curiel remained only briefly in Italy. Although he had no residence papers, he soon established himself in Paris, where he was joined by other Egyptian Jewish communists who were deported or left Egypt voluntarily between 1949 and 1956. Some of Curiel's political opponents in the Egyptian communist movement also settled in France in the 1950s and 1960s. Several, like Hillel Schwartz, abandoned political activity altogether. Others, like Raymond Aghion, joined the Communist Party of France. Curiel and former members of HADETU constituted the largest faction of Egyptian Jewish communists in France. They maintained a distinctive organizational identity as a branch of HADETU and its successor organizations for most of the 1950s.
Emigre Politics and Reterritorialization
The Egyptian Jewish communists who found themselves in France were compelled to redefine their identity and their relationship to the land of their birth under new and rapidly changing historical circumstances. As the only organized formation, Curiel and the HADETU members were the most persistent in articulating a coherent response to these questions. Curiel, although he briefly contacted the Communist Party of France when he first arrived in the country, refused to join it because to do so would be tantamount to accepting the judgment of the Egyptian government and his critics in the communist movement that he was a foreigner and should therefore abandon his activity in Egyptian politics.
The first member of HADETU to reach Paris was Yusuf (Joseph) Hazan, who was intensely loyal to Curiel. Because he had a French passport, he had been sent there by the organization in 1949 to establish a safe haven in the event of necessity. Hazan settled himself in a successful printing business relatively soon after arriving in Paris and was therefore well positioned to serve as the treasurer of the group and the publisher of its printed materials. Eventually, some twenty to thirty Jewish members of HADETU gathered under Curiel's leadership in Paris. They adopted “the Rome Group” as their nom de guerre. Functioning as a branch of HADETU was a clear statement that they considered themselves Egyptians in exile. Curiel remained a member of the HADETU Central Committee, periodically sending back to Egypt reports on theoretical and strategic matters written in invisible ink. In addition to Henri Curiel and his wife Rosette, the Rome Group included Raymond Biriotti, Joyce Blau, Alfred Cohen, Ralph Costi, Jacques Hassoun, Yusuf Hazan, Didar Rossano-Fawzy, Armand Setton, and Raymond Stambouli.
The ideological formulations and political practices of the Rome Group were informed by the struggle for national independence and against neocolonialism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as well as the local conditions in Egypt. As anti-Zionists, they rejected the Zionist solutions to their predicament: both Ben-Gurion's maximalist negation of the diaspora and milder forms of Zionism that merely saw Israel as the center of Jewish existence. They also rejected Bundism, the diasporic nationalism that had been popular in leftist Eastern European Jewish circles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had polemicized against the Russian Bund on the grounds that maintaining a separate Jewish organizational form was an expression of nationalist particularism that weakened the Russian revolutionary movement. A Bundist-inspired diasporic Jewish national identity was therefore unlikely to attract political activists who considered themselves orthodox communists. The members of the Rome Group were educated in French culture. They admired the rationalism, secularism, and democratic values of the French republican tradition. But Jews born in an Arab country were not readily accepted as “true Frenchmen” by many circles in France, especially in the era of Algeria's struggle for independence. In the 1950s, all communists, despite their ideological commitment to proletarian internationalism, acknowledged that they had to have an ethno-national identity. In the era of decolonization, the only legitimate form this could assume for communists in colonial or semicolonial countries was heroic nationalism. Lenin had theorized that the anti-imperialist national liberation movements in such countries were allies of the proletarian revolution. The Egyptian communists were, therefore, militant nationalists who believed that the Egyptian national movement was “objectively” part of the international proletarian revolution. Insisting on their Egyptianity was the form of identity most consistent with the political commitments of Curiel and his comrades.
Refusing to accept the determination of the government of Egypt and many of their own comrades that they were foreigners, the Rome Group maintained a high level of political activity entailing great personal risk, especially for those like Curiel, who did not hold French citizenship, and substantial financial sacrifices. They seemed to believe that demonstrating their political commitment and willingness to sacrifice for the cause would secure their right to be Egyptians. The more political developments appeared to lead to the conclusion that they could not be accepted as Egyptians or participate fully in Egyptian politics, the more they insisted on asserting their commitment to Egypt.
At least until after the 1956 Suez/Sinai War, Curiel steadfastly believed that he would return to Egypt and to a leadership position in the communist movement. According to Gilles Perrault's biography, an authorized narrative based largely on information supplied by Curiel's friends, Curiel felt himself more Egyptian in Paris than he had in Cairo: “Perceived in Cairo as a foreigner and accepting it, Henri Curiel discovered in his physical uprooting the impossibility of being anything else but Egyptian. Exile Egyptianized him.” 
Curiel was not the only one among his comrades to discover a more intense feeling of Egyptian identity as a response to repression and exile. Joyce Blau, who became Curiel's loyal and devoted lieutenant, served as a courier between Curiel and the HADETU leaders in Egypt until she was arrested in 1954. Her prison experience strengthened her feelings for Egypt:
It was in prison…that I was first introduced to Egypt. I didn't speak Arabic and I didn't know any Muslims. I discovered what misery really was when I spoke to the “common law,” non-political prisoners. It was incredible.…The warden couldn't have been nicer to me. When I had jaundice, he came and sat with me in the infirmary. The doctor was wonderful. I felt surrounded by respect and affection.
These comments suggest that as an extension of the Rome Group's decision to continue operating as a branch of HADETU, its members began to recreate their identity and their relationship with Egypt. When they lived permanently in Egypt, their connection to the country was undeniable, even if some Egyptians considered them to be outside the boundaries of the national community. In Paris, where the “naturalness” of their bond to Egypt was exposed to question, they had to be more assertive about their right to a place in the Egyptian national topos. The Rome Group underwent what Deleuze and Guattari have called, in postmodern language, a “reterritorialization”: a reconfiguration of the Egyptian national space and their location in it that enabled them to persist in their political commitments. However, the group's militant engagement in the modernist project of liberating the Egyptian nation-state from semicolonial domination meant that they could not conceivably adopt the “rhizomorphous” conception of identity or the “nomad thought” advocated by Deleuze and Guattari even if their subsequent political practices suggest that they might be considered its avatars.
If, as Deleuze and Guattari asserted, “anything can serve as a reterritorialization, in other words, ‘stand for’ the lost territory,”  in this case the group itself fulfilled this role. In addition to its activities as a political organization, the Rome Group functioned as a family—Perrault repeatedly called them a “clan”—a personality cult, and an immigrant support group much like the landsmanshaften (home town societies) that united Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants to Paris in the pre-World War II era on the basis of their former residences in various localities in Eastern Europe. Curiel's eccentric personal and political style, the strictures of revolutionary emigre politics, and the closing down of social horizons common in organizations subject to Marxist-Leninist discipline in the era of high Stalinism all contributed to the Rome Group's capacity to serve as a replacement for the national territory of Egypt.
The peculiarities of Curiel and the Rome Group made it difficult for the Communist Party of France and other orthodox communists to accept them as genuine and politically reliable. Anticommunists as well have entertained a variety of conspiracy theories to account for their activities. In my opinion, despite whatever criticisms may be directed at their tactics or their ideology, there is no evidence to support doubts about their sincerity.
Exile and Communist Politics
In February 1951, the Rome Group began to publish two informational bulletins about Egypt and the Sudan: Paix et independance, a short-lived united front-type publication to promote and publicize the work of the Egyptian Partisans of Peace in the campaign for world peace launched by Frédéric Joliot-Curie's Stockholm appeal, and Bulletin d’information sur l'Egypte et le Soudan (with many subsequent changes in name and varying frequency), “edited under the supervision of the Democratic Movement for National Liberation and the Sudanese Movement for National Liberation” (the precursor of the Communist Party of the Sudan). These publications contained news of Egypt and the Sudan, translations of HADETU publications, reports of the activities of HADETU and its mass organizations, especially the Partisans of Peace, and analysis of the situation in Egypt and the Sudan in accord with the HADETU line.
The Free Officers' military coup of July 23, 1952, created dramatically new political conditions that Curiel's comrades in Egypt felt he could not properly appreciate from abroad. Curiel's advice, indeed his existence, was increasingly ignored, especially after HADETU underwent another split in mid-1953 over the organization's attitude toward the new military regime. In addition, communication with Curiel was impaired because HADETU was organizationally weakened by the arrest of many members during the anticommunist campaign unleashed by the new regime with the encouragement of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
All the Egyptian communist tendencies except HADETU, in concert with the line of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of France, opposed the Free Officers' regime on the grounds that it was an undemocratic military dictatorship, some of whose leaders had close ties to the U.S. Embassy and the CIA, and because it had brutally suppressed a major strike of textile workers in the town of Kafr al-Dawwar only weeks after coming to power. HADETU, inspired by Curiel's strategic conception that gave priority to the struggle against British imperialism, supported the coup d'état of the Free Officers and the Revolutionary Command Council they established as an expression of the “national democratic movement.”  This did not exempt HADETU members from arrest and torture in Gamal Abdel Nasser's prisons for much of the next twelve years.
Curiel's status in HADETU was further complicated in November 1952 when the Communist Party of France impugned his faithfulness and reliability by implicating him in the Marty affair—a late Stalinist intrigue aimed at eliminating “rightists” (i.e., those who continued to advocate a popular front despite the intensifying cold war) from the leadership of the French and other communist parties. The case against Curiel was based on circumstantial evidence and innuendo. The French party's decision to attack him by insinuation may have been due to the influence of Curiel's opponents among Egyptian emigres who did join the Communist Party of France, its distaste for his unorthodox ways, or its disapproval of HADETU's and Curiel's support for the Free Officers in opposition to the line of the Soviet Union. Under the prevailing norms of Stalinist orthodoxy, the veiled criticism of Curiel by the Communist Party of France rendered him a political pariah. The suspicions of his longtime critics appeared to be vindicated, and even some who knew him well and had followed his leadership now distanced themselves from him. Those who opposed Curiel no longer needed to argue that the problem with him and the Rome Group was that they were Jews who had supported the partition of Palestine with more enthusiasm than any Arab intellectual could muster—an argument that might open its proponents to charges of anti-Semitism or lack of commitment to internationalism. Now it was sufficient and compelling to say that the international communist movement regarded Curiel as a questionable element and that he should be avoided for that reason.
Despite the cloud over Curiel, the Rome Group remained convinced of his innocence and continued to function under his leadership. Members of the group other than Curiel represented HADETU at meetings of the various popular front organizations of the international communist movement such as the International Association of Democratic Jurists, the World Federation of Democratic Women, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, and the World Peace Council. When HADETU changed its line in late 1953 and attacked the Free Officers' regime, the Rome Group complied, despite Curiel's personal disagreement with the new policy, and distributed pamphlets signed by the Egyptian National Democratic Front (in which HADETU participated) attacking the Egyptian government at the meeting of the Congress of Asian Jurists and at the Bandung Conference of Asian and African States in 1955. HADETU members living in Egypt could not attend these meetings without being arrested on their return home; and there was no objection to the Rome Group's representing the organization in this way.
HADETU members in Egypt did object when the Rome Group used these meetings to make contact with the Communist Party of Israel and to promote dialogues aimed at resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. These efforts were always in accord with the generally accepted communist line, which affirmed the validity of the November 1947 UN General Assembly resolution partitioning Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state and recognized the right to national self-determination of both the Jewish and Arab communities of mandate Palestine. But communists living in Egypt did not feel the need to seek direct contact with Israelis, even communist Israelis with whom there was basic agreement on many matters. As the conflict with Israel sharpened, promoting Arab-Israeli peace became less important and less possible for them.
From late 1954 on, the Nasser regime became increasingly committed to pan-Arab nationalism. The international communist movement at first regarded pan-Arabism as a British-sponsored scheme to maintain an imperial presence in the Arab world. But by 1954, Arab and Egyptian communists began to embrace this orientation as an expression of anti-imperialism. By late 1955, due to Nasser's endorsement of “positive neutralism” at the Bandung Conference, the close relations Nasser established with the leaders of China, India, and Yugoslavia, and the announcement that Egypt would purchase arms from Czechoslovakia, the communist movement reconsidered its opposition to the regime. The rapprochement between the communists and the regime was based primarily on support for Nasser's anti-imperialist foreign policy, which was, in Nasserist political discourse, nearly synonymous with pan-Arab nationalism. Understanding the popularity and power of this idiom, the communists embraced it with only faintly articulated reservations about the continuing undemocratic character of the Nasser regime, its prohibition of strikes, its efforts to control the leadership of the trade union movement, and its refusal to allow overt communist political activity. These were considered secondary problems because, according to the prevailing Marxist orthodoxy, anything that contributed to the struggle against imperialism was regarded as contributing to the victory of the international proletariat.
In the 1940s, Jews had been accepted in the communist movement on the basis of a shared commitment to local Egyptian patriotism. It was problematic, but not unreasonable, to consider Jews as Egyptians. Even before 1948, the designation “Arab Jew” was uncommon; after the establishment of the state of Israel, it became unthinkable to regard Jews as Arabs. When the focal point of political loyalty for Egyptians shifted toward the Arab world, and Arabism came to be perceived as embodying an anti-imperialist essence, the tension between Arabism and its other-Israel-made it increasingly difficult for Jews and non-Jews to coexist in the same political movement or, indeed, in the same country. The Rome Group failed to respond adequately to this development and continued to function as before.
The rapprochement between the various communist tendencies and the Egyptian regime encouraged a parallel movement toward unity within the highly factionalized communist movement. In February 1955, HADETU and six organizations that had previously split from it fused to form the Unified Egyptian Communist Party (UECP-al-Hizb al-Shuyu‘i al-Misri al-Muwahhad). The Jewish emigres were so out of touch with their comrades in Egypt by this time that they learned of this development from friends in the Communist Party of Sudan. They supported the move toward communist unity, but their enthusiasm was dampened because, as a condition of unity, HADETU's partners had insisted that Curiel's membership in the UECP be suspended in light of the suspicions that had been raised about him in the Marty affair. Four members of the UECP living in Egypt who were known to have close relations with Curiel were also suspended.
Even though it regarded the UECP's actions as “submission to bourgeois nationalism,” the Rome Group continued to function as a branch of the party, redoubling its efforts to promote the new party's views by publishing a French translation of the UECP's underground Arabic newspaper, Kifah al-sha‘b, (People's struggle) and a monthly Arabic bulletin, Kifah shu‘ub al-sharq al-awsat (Struggle of the peoples of the Middle East), “issued by the Unified Egyptian Communist Party,” while continuing its monthly French bulletin, Nouvelles d'Egypte, now “published by the Unified Egyptian Communist Party.” In July 1956, the party memberships of Curiel and the four others suspended with him were restored. Curiel regained his seat on the Central Committee after the 1956 war.
The Jewish emigre group felt that the UECP had unfairly taken sanctions against their leader because he was Jewish or because he was considered a foreigner. Though they maintained their confidence in Curiel, they did not violate the Leninist rules of discipline and continued to uphold the line of the party while voicing their disagreements through internal channels. Apparently, they believed that the best way to convince their comrades of Curiel's loyalty (and their own) was to remain faithful and to identify even more closely with Egypt and with the UECP. The years 1955–56 were the high point in the Rome Group's political activity, and the initiation of an Arabic publication, though it was short-lived, suggests that the group made an effort to accommodate itself to the rising tide of Arabism.
The Bandung Conference of Asian and African States in 1955 adopted a resolution calling for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for an Israeli retreat to the borders allotted to the Jewish state by the 1947 UN partition plan. This resolution was endorsed by Egypt and the other Arab states participating in the Bandung Conference; according to some accounts, it was initiated by Abdel Nasser himself. Yusuf Hilmi, a Muslim Egyptian lawyer and secretary-general of the Egyptian Partisans of Peace, saw this as an opportune moment to press for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He adopted the strategy of calling on Abdel Nasser to pursue the commitment he had made at Bandung with an appropriate diplomatic initiative. Simultaneously, Hilmi addressed the Israeli people and called on them to make a positive response to the Bandung resolution, which he considered a manifestation of Arab willingness to coexist with Israel.
The Rome Group enthusiastically promoted Hilmi's efforts and identified with them wholeheartedly. Though Hilmi was not a party member when he began this initiative, the content of his proposals was consistent with the line of the UECP. However, his rhetoric was much more conciliatory to Israel than that of the party. Some UECP members living in Egypt were uncomfortable with the Rome Group's support for Yusuf Hilmi and demanded that the group be expelled from the party for that reason. Although no steps in this direction were taken, once again some Egyptian communists suspected that their Jewish comrades might be more sympathetic to Israel than they felt was proper, especially in the context of the general rapprochement between the communists and the regime of Abdel Nasser, who, though he did engage in indirect, secret diplomatic contacts with Israel before and after the Bandung Conference, was unwilling to undertake a public initiative to follow up the Bandung resolution on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Suez Crisis and Aftermath
When Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956, the Rome Group responded with intense patriotic fervor. The group defended the legality of the Egyptian government's action and used its European contacts to try to persuade French and British leaders to resolve their dispute with Egypt peacefully. When the die was cast, Curiel sided with Egypt against France. Twenty days before the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt on October 29, 1956, he obtained a copy of the plan of attack and forwarded it to ‘Abd al-Rahman Sadiq, the Egyptian press attaché in Paris. Abdel Nasser saw the plan but thought the idea was too outlandish to consider seriously. After the Suez/Sinai War, Curiel worked hard to repair the damaged relations between Egypt and France. Sarwat ‘Ukasha, the Egyptian military attaché in Paris, was aware of Curiel's efforts and asked Abdel Nasser to restore his Egyptian citizenship in recognition of his patriotic activity, but he was rebuffed.
Despite Egypt's military defeat, Nasser emerged from the Suez crisis as the heroic leader of anti-imperialist pan-Arabism. All the Egyptian communists now supported the regime's foreign policy wholeheartedly, and moving closer to the regime encouraged the factionalized movement to unite its own ranks. The first stage of unification was the fusion of al-Raya with the UECP (composed largely of the former HADETU) to form the United Egyptian Communist Party (al-Hizb al-Shuyu‘i al-Misri al-Muttahid) in July 1957. As a condition of unity, al-Raya insisted that Jews be excluded from the leadership of the new party and that the Rome Group be dissolved.
The exclusion of Jews from the leadership had no practical significance in Egypt because, except for Curiel, there were no longer any Jewish leaders of the UECP; and there had never been any Jews at all in al-Raya. The Jewish members of the UECP in Egypt quietly became rank-and-file members of the United Egyptian Communist Party. The dissolution of the Rome Group was a more substantial matter, but in response to al-Raya's posing this demand, some members of the UECP (especially those who had not previously known Curiel personally as members of HADETU) breathed a sigh of relief. Even Curiel's disciples in Egypt understood that he and the other Jewish emigres in Paris were an easy target for the government and others who attacked the Egyptian communists as Zionists and agents of Israel. Therefore, as the Egyptian historian and HADETU partisan Rif‘at al-Sa‘id put it, some members of the UECP “were also pleased with this decision [to expel Curiel and the Rome Group], even though they did not wish to undertake it.” 
Those who sought to sever the Egyptian communist movement's ties with Curiel and all that he was assumed to represent had substantial international support for doing so. Because of their French educations, the Communist Party of France had great authority for many Egyptian communists. None of them were closer to the French party than the leaders of al-Raya, Fu’ad Mursi and Isma‘il Sabri ‘Abd Allah, who had been members of the Communist Party of France and its “group of Egyptians in Paris” when they were students in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Al-Raya's conditions for unity thus carried considerable ideological weight, despite the fact that it was the smallest of the tendencies engaged in the unity discussions. In October 1957, the Political Bureau of the United Egyptian Communist Party informed the Rome Group that it was dissolved.
Meanwhile, unity discussions continued with the third, and by now the largest communist group, the Workers' and Peasants' Communist Party (WPCP-Hizb al-‘Ummal wa’l-Fallahin al-Shuyu‘I), whose nucleus was the former New Dawn group. Yusuf Darwish and Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d were members of the Central Committee of WPCP. Accepting the demand to bar Jews from the leadership would mean their exclusion from the new united party's Central Committee, of which they would otherwise undoubtedly have been members. Over the protests of many of its own members, the WPCP leaders reluctantly accepted the conditions for unity. Thus, when the united Communist Party of Egypt (CPE) was established on January 8, 1958, the Central Committee included no Jews, though several Jews remained rank-and-file party members. The Jewish emigres in Paris were excluded from membership in the new party at the same time that they were informed that their financial contributions to it would still be welcome.
There was little objection to this measure in Egypt. The Jewish former WPCP members Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d, Yusuf Darwish, and Raymond Douek detested Curiel, in part because they considered him too sympathetic to Zionism. They were glad to see him and the Rome Group excluded from the new party. None of the other Jews who joined CPE was influential enough to register a serious protest. The common commitment to the priority of the anti-imperialist national liberation project disabled critical judgments that might have emerged about the meaning and consequences of this course of action.
The Rome Group regarded these decisions as submission to racism. A detailed letter from the group to the Political Bureau indicates that objections to its activities promoting Arab-Israeli peace by communists residing in Egypt had been one of the factors prompting the demand for its dissolution. Thus, at the very end of their career in the Egyptian communist movement, the Jewish emigres in Paris hinted that there was a political difference between them and the other Egyptian communists on the question of the Arab-Israeli conflict: Most non-Jewish communists were much less concerned about resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict than Curiel and the Rome Group were, in part because demanding that the Egyptian government take bold initiatives in this regard would risk a break with Abdel Nasser and the pan-Arab nationalist movement that looked to him for leadership. Admitting this political difference would have placed a question mark over the Rome Group's identity as Egyptians because this difference could easily be dismissed as a function of ethnic origin and lack of enthusiasm for pan-Arab nationalism, hence conciliation with Zionism and imperialism. The Rome Group's claim that the decision to exclude Jews from the party constituted racism was valid according to the norms of the international communist movement. But the issue was much more complex than this, and the Rome Group had neither the political standing nor the analytical tools to launch a full-scale political debate on the matter.
The Rome Group's claims to be a legitimate part of Egypt were contested not only by the regime they opposed but also by their closest political allies. This was a consequence of the rapprochement between the communist movement and the regime and the communists' acceptance of the ethos of pan-Arabism. As it was transmitted to the Rome Group, this meant that Jews cannot be Arabs. The form of Egyptian national identity adopted by the Nasserist anti-imperialist project situated the Egyptian Jewish communists in the location defined by Edward Said as “just beyond the perimeter of what nationalism constructs as the nation, at the frontier separating ‘us’ from what is alien” in “the perilous territory of not-belonging.” 
Less than a year after the Rome Group was expelled from the Egyptian communist movement and its major tendencies fused, the Communist Party of Egypt split into two factions: CPE and CPE-HADETU. The reappearance of the HADETU faction without any Jews in the leadership suggests that the Jewishness of Curiel and other historic HADETU leaders was not primarily responsible for the persistent factionalism in the Egyptian communist movement, as some of its opponents charged. Only months later, on the eve of January 1, 1959, the Nasser regime launched a campaign of mass arrests that culminated in the imprisonment of almost all the active communists and many others. Intense ideological debates in jail brought most of the communists to support the Arab socialist policies adopted by Nasser in the early 1960s. The narrowing of the differences with the regime and the deepening relationship between Egypt and the Soviet Union led to the release of the communists from jail in 1964. A year later, both of the main communist parties were dissolved.
The demise of communism as an organized political force in Egypt impelled the members of the former Rome Group to reorient their political commitments and identities. Despite the cavalier treatment they received from their comrades in Egypt, the members of the former Rome Group loyally contributed large sums of money to support the families of jailed party members and conducted propaganda work in Europe to bring public attention to their plight. However, these acts of solidarity and compassion, though impressive in their own terms, were not an adequate long-term substitute for the high level of political commitment and engagement the members of the Rome Group had experienced as disciplined cadres in the Egyptian communist movement. They also postponed addressing the question of the ethnic identity of those who undertook them. Having invested great efforts in demonstrating their Egyptianity, the Rome Group members could not instantly become French. Having insisted that their Jewishness was of little significance, they could not easily become Jews. The members of the group, along with several other former Egyptian Jewish communists in France, were thus compelled to invent new political and cultural personalities from the now permanently dislocated fragments of their Egyptian, Jewish, and French identities.
Henri Curiel took the first step in this direction in November 1957 when he and some members of the Rome Group—primarily Rosette Curiel, Joyce Blau, and Didar Rossano-Fawzy—began to work with a French network of support for the Algerian revolution led by Francis Jeanson. Behind-the-scenes support was provided by the printing enterprise of Yusuf Hazan. “We were mad with joy,” said Rosette Curiel, “because we were once again useful.” 
By 1960, Curiel supplanted Jeanson as the leader of the National Liberation Front (FLN) support network. Because of his work in support of the Algerian revolution, Curiel was arrested by the French security services on October 21, 1960. He remained incarcerated until after the signing of the Evian accords on Algerian independence in 1962. The dedication and self-sacrifice of Curiel and his associates forged intimate relations between the small group of Francophone Egyptian Jews around Curiel and the Francophone Muslim Algerian leaders of FLN. As an expression of that relationship, after Algerian independence, Didar Rossano-Fawzy took up residence in Algiers and remained there until the military coup that deposed Ahmad Ben Bella and brought Houari Boumedienne to power in June 1965. In addition, Henri Curiel donated his family's mansion, located on Brazil Street in the fashionable Zamalek district of Cairo, to the government of independent Algeria for use as its embassy in Egypt. The building still serves that function today.
While a subset of its members began to work in solidarity with the Algerian FLN in 1957, the Rome Group as a whole continued to consider Egypt as its field of action. Their illusions were definitively shattered in January 1959 when Didar Rossano-Fawzy came back to Paris from Egypt, where she had been active in the women's movement since the end of the Suez/Sinai War, and reported that Curiel's supporters wanted him to return. With most of the party leaders in jail, they were perhaps prepared to reconsider the value of Curiel's contribution to the Egyptian communist movement. By then, Curiel had concluded that his role in Egypt was over. Other members of the Rome Group had come to that conclusion when they were officially expelled from the Communist Party of Egypt the previous year. Although Curiel went through the initial motions, he did not aggressively pursue this opportunity to return to Egypt, which he would have eagerly seized upon a few years earlier. As Gilles Perrault reported, “He had understood. Marginality was his lot.…Expelled from Egypt and Italy, clandestine in France, then a conditional, temporary resident.…Marginality was his political destiny.” 
After Algeria gained its independence, Curiel expanded his work in support of FLN into broad solidarity work for anticolonialist revolutionary movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Several members of the former Rome Group had reservations about extending their political activities to the entire world. There was a certain logic and continuity to working for Algerian independence, but a global anticolonialist support movement seemed too diffuse and politically adventurist. Only Curiel's closest comrades from the Rome Group—Joyce Blau, Rosette Curiel, and Didar Rossano-Fawzy—joined him on this new political journey far beyond the boundaries of Egypt and the Middle East. Their former comrades supported their efforts in exceptional circumstances. At the first annual congress of Solidarité (Solidarity) on December 1–2, 1962, about thirty socially and politically diverse individuals—Catholic and Protestant clergymen, pro-Soviet communists, and political adventurers, many of them veterans of the FLN support network—gathered around Curiel's leadership.
Solidarity provided lodging and safe houses, communications and courier services, forged travel documents, medical assistance, and intelligence and military training to many anticolonialist and oppositional revolutionary movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Among the beneficiaries of Solidarity's services were the MPLA of Angola, FRELIMO of Mozambique, ANC of South Africa, ZAPU of Zimbabwe, FAR of Argentina, VRP of Brazil, MIR of Chile, FAR of Guatemala, PDK of Kurdistan, and the communist parties of Haiti, Iraq, Israel (MAKI and RAKAH), Morocco, Sudan, and Réunion.
Though Solidarity devoted most of its efforts to causes outside the Middle East, Curiel justified his activism in terms of Egypt: “Me, I began in Egypt. You can't know how hard it is to start from zero, to have to learn everything. One loses time. One makes mistakes. Why not let others profit from the experience acquired? You see that you can teach them a lot.”  Solidarity maintained another vital Middle Eastern connection: from Algerian independence until the coup d'état of Houari Boumedienne in June 1965. It was financed by the government of Algeria.
Solidarity's social and political diversity, its mixture of conspiratorial professionalism and amateurism, the intense but naive political devotion of its activists, and Curiel's complex political baggage and personal peculiarities led many to suspect that Solidarity was not what it claimed to be. The Egyptian government and some of Curiel's former comrades in Egypt had long thought he was a Zionist agent. The Communist Party of France refused to have anything to do with him. The Communist Party of Israel, an exceptionally dogmatic party, also kept its distance from Curiel, despite the fact that Curiel had repeatedly tried to introduce Arab and Israeli communists to each other, a project that the Israeli party in principle supported wholeheartedly.
Curiel's uncommon political career was brought to the attention of the French public in 1976 when the news weekly Le Point featured a cover story, “The Boss of the Terrorist Aid Networks,” by Georges Suffert. This sensationalist exposé included a capsule political biography of Curiel that was wrong in nearly every detail. Suffert's sources in the French intelligence community believed Curiel was “in constant contact with the KGB.”  They hypothesized that the Soviet Union, because it opposed the use of terrorism by left-wing groups, deployed Curiel to gather information and to monitor and restrain them.
Most Americans who know the name of Henri Curiel probably encountered it for the first time in Claire Sterling's The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism, a key text in the articulation of the discourse on terrorism, which became a major justification for U.S. foreign policy in the Reagan-Bush era. Terrorism conveniently linked the two Easts—Islam and communism—and provided a unifying theme for a foreign policy of global rollback from Iran to Nicaragua during the second cold war. Sterling drew much of her information on Curiel from Suffert's Le Point article, including all its incorrect biographical details. She agreed with Suffert's suggestion that Curiel was a KGB agent. But the main thesis of Sterling's book was that there was a vast conspiracy of international terrorism directed by the Soviet Union against the West: the polar opposite of Suffert's explanation of the KGB's motive for using Curiel. This inconsistency did not diminish The Terror Network's influence as a rationale for Reagan era foreign policy. Believers in the existence of an “evil empire” were temperamentally unsuited to examining Sterling's propositions critically.
Suffert, Sterling, and other conspiracy theorists purporting to explain the activities of Curiel, Solidarity, and its successor organization of the mid-1970s, Aide et Amitié (Aid and friendship), have never provided evidence that could be independently checked and verified to support their assertions. Therefore, it is worth considering the possibility that the motivations and objectives of Curiel and his comrades were more or less what they proclaimed them to be. “Never forget that it was the misery of the Egyptian people that led him [Curiel] to politics,” explained Yusuf Hazan. Perhaps the unusual combination of Curiel's political dedication, his exile and expulsion from the national community he most wanted to be part of, and his repeated efforts to recreate an authentic political and personal identity removed from the native space that he came to understand he would never possess formed Curiel's persona as an eccentric. Reflecting on his own experience as a Palestinian exile, Edward Said observed, “Exiles are always eccentrics who feel their difference (even as they frequently exploit it).…This usually translates into an intransigence that is not easily ignored.” 
Egyptian Jews as Intermediaries in the Arab-Israeli Conflict
This chapter could end at this point, and the dramatic tension of the narrative might be enhanced if it did. But this would unduly emphasize the persona of Henri Curiel and suggest that he succeeded in transforming his social marginality into a lever of historical agency through conscious, self-actualizing, heroic-eccentric, political action. Curiel's personal qualities of determination and dedication certainly contributed to making him a singular (even if perhaps, ultimately, not an especially effective) historical subject. But the political action of Curiel and the Rome Group also forms part of a larger story in which many left-wing Egyptian Jews acted as intermediaries between Arabs and Israelis.
The cultural and political formation of Jews born in Egypt, educated in French, and politicized in the era of the united front against fascism entailed a proclivity to temper intransigent nationalisms intolerant of ambiguous and hybrid cultural identities. Some individuals did act heroically in this context, but their actions were enabled by their historically formed political, cultural, and geographic positions. A significant number of such Egyptian Jews embraced the opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities presented to them as a result of the historically structured experiences that configured their personal and political identities to engage in some form of public efforts to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The remaining sections of this chapter examine some of these activities. Much of the narrative has the character of a conventional diplomatic history. The events are significant, interesting, and widely misrepresented enough to justify such a conventional approach, but this risks reemphasizing the heroic-eccentric historical agency of singular individuals. Therefore, I reiterate that my argument is that subjects with the potential to act as they did were formed by historically structured circumstances. Moreover, many other unrecorded, private forms of mediation also occurred. Though I have been unable to recover their traces, their significance may nonetheless have been considerable.
Egyptian Jews in Paris and the Arab-Israeli Conflict After the 1967 War
The 1967 war reconfigured the significance of the Arab-Israeli conflict in world affairs and restored the question of Palestine to the international agenda after a long absence. In these more urgent circumstances, left-wing Egyptian Jews living in Paris found that their fragmented social and cultural formations, their commitment to political internationalism, and their strategic location at a cosmopolitan European crossroads enabled them to serve as political and cultural intermediaries. Arabs and Israelis seeking to step beyond the boundaries of their respective national consensuses to explore the possibility of reaching resolutions to their conflict based on mutual recognition and coexistence found a common language with left-wing Egyptian Jewish emigres in Paris who were able to function comfortably in all of the dialects that different parties brought to this encounter.
Raymond Aghion (b. 1921) was one of the first Egyptian Jews to undertake a project of political and cultural mediation after the 1967 war. Aghion, Henri Curiel's cousin and a member of a wealthy Alexandrian family of Italian citizenship, pursued a political career parallel, though sometimes antagonistic, to his better-known cousin. He was educated at the Lycée de l'Union Juive pour l'Enseignment of Alexandria and began his political career by purchasing al-Majalla al-Jadida (The new magazine) so that it could be used as a forum for leftist opinions. During World War II, Aghion and Curiel established L'Amitié Française to support the French resistance against the Nazi occupation. Rosette Curiel was then an employee of the French legation in Cairo. Through her efforts, L'Amitié Française received official diplomatic support and political cover for conducting Marxist education in the guise of promoting the progressive face of French culture.
Despite this early collaboration, Aghion was never an adherent of Curiel; their future political careers were formed in divergent currents of the same broad stream. Aghion left Egypt in 1945 and took up residence in Paris, where he resided continually except for four years in Italy from 1952 to 1956. He returned to visit Egypt only once, in 1970, and maintained no organizational ties with the Egyptian communist movement after leaving the country. Instead, Aghion joined the Communist Party of France and its “group of Egyptians in Paris” along with Fu’ad Mursi and Isma‘il Sabri ‘Abd Allah, the future leaders of al-Raya.
In the early 1950s, Aghion and ‘Abd Allah collaborated with Maxime Rodinson in the publication of a nonparty journal, Moyen-Orient (Middle East), one of the first publications based on the collaboration of Arabs and Jews. Moyen-Orient was almost unique in the West after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War because it spoke of the Palestinians as a national community, not simply as refugees in need of humanitarian assistance. The journal also advocated Arab neutrality in the cold war, a position that anticipated the positive neutralism developed by Abdel Nasser, Nehru, and Tito after the Bandung Conference. This collaboration ended in 1951 when Isma‘il Sabri ‘Abd Allah returned to Egypt, where he rejoined Fu’ad Mursi, who had already established al-Raya after completing his studies in Paris. Aghion remained active in the Communist Party of France during the 1950s and 1960s and did not again undertake any particular responsibility for political action in the Arab-Israeli arena until after the 1967 war.
In April 1968, former Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France published an article in Le Nouvel Observateur calling for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242, the intentionally vague diplomatic formula adopted at the conclusion of the 1967 Arab-Israeli hostilities. Though Mendès-France rarely identified himself publicly as a Jew, he was married to the niece of Salvator Cicurel, the last president of the Sephardi Jewish community of Cairo, so he had a personal as well as a political stake in the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the urging of several Arab friends, on April 27, 1968, Aghion wrote to Mendès-France (using the pseudonym Francis Lagache) explaining that the Arab states bordering Israel had already agreed to implement UN Security Council Resolution 242, whereas Israel did not accept the principle of evacuating all the Arab territories it occupied in 1967 in exchange for a contractual peace with the Arab states. Mendès-France's reply to Aghion was lukewarm and noncommittal, and the events of May 1968 soon overwhelmed whatever potential this exchange might have had.
Some of Henri Curiel's almost incidental activities of the mid-1950s assumed a new significance in the post-1967 circumstances. Soon after Curiel began working in support of the Algerian revolution, Amos Kenan, an Israeli journalist who had been a minor party in Arab-Israeli discussions in Paris generated by Yusuf Hilmi's 1955 peace initiative, introduced him to Uri Avnery, the editor of the iconoclastic Israeli weekly ha-‘Olam ha-Zeh (This world). Curiel explained to Avnery that if Israelis actively supported the inevitable victory of the Algerian FLN, then Algeria would become Israel's first friend in the Arab world and be able to mediate between Israel and Egypt. Following Curiel's advice, Avnery, Kenan, and their comrades—Natan Yalin-Mor, Maxime Ghilan, and Shalom Cohen—established the Israeli Committee for a Free Algeria.
The historic political roots of this circle were on the margins of Israeli society and politics—ETZEL (the Irgun, or National Military Organization) and LEHI (the Stern Gang, or Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), as opposed to the hegemonic labor Zionist movement. Even in those dissident circles, their trajectory was distinctive because they did not join the Herut Party or its successor, the Likud, as the leaders of ETZEL and LEHI, Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, and many of their followers did. In the 1950s, they were the animators of Semitic Action, a political expression of the Canaanite movement, which advocated that Hebrew-speaking Israelis cut their ties with the Jewish diaspora and integrate into the Middle East as natives of the region on the basis of an anticolonialist alliance with its indigenous Arab inhabitants. Avnery's magazine was popular among devotees of soft-core pornography, muckraking investigative journalism, and avant garde culturopolitical ideas. But in the heyday of MAPAI rule and Ben-Gurionist statism, initiatives emanating from a current so far beyond the labor Zionist mainstream of Israeli politics and culture could have no immediate practical consequences. Only developments after the overpowering Israeli victory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the inconclusive standoff at the end of the 1973 war invested these contacts between Israeli Jews and the Algerian FLN mediated by Henri Curiel with historical status as a new beginning of the dialogue, largely suspended outside the ranks of the Communist Party of Israel since 1948, between Arabs and Jews seeking coexistence on the basis of equality in the Middle East.
In 1969, Curiel received from several former comrades in Egypt a letter asking him to define his position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Curiel sent a lengthy response articulating the principles that guided his efforts to serve as an intermediary between the parties to the conflict during the 1970s. The starting point of Curiel's analysis was that the Jews of Israel constituted a national community with the right of self-determination, even if Israel were regarded as a colonial fact, “because many national states have their origins in colonial facts, a truth well-verified in Africa and the Middle East.”  This was the same argument that the Soviet Union and the international communist movement had deployed to justify the UN partition plan for Palestine in 1947. The Egyptian and other Arab communists modified this line in response to exacerbation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the unequivocal alignment of Israel with Anglo-French neocolonialism in 1956. Curiel steadfastly upheld the formulations of 1947–48, and this was one of the reasons some of his former comrades came to suspect and distrust him. Curiel maintained that armed conflict, which had begun to escalate in 1969 with the outbreak of the war of attrition between Egypt and Israel across the Suez Canal, served the interests of imperialism and reactionary forces in the Arab world and in Israel. He regarded the slogan of “War until Victory” as an ultraleft illusion that caused great Arab suffering in the name of defending the interests of the Arab nation by rejecting any political solution to the conflict with Israel. He opposed this slogan, just as the Egyptian communists had opposed the Arab declarations of war on Israel in 1948.
Curiel believed that the Arab-Israeli conflict constituted a barrier to pursuing a progressive social agenda in both Israel and the Arab states. Therefore it should be settled as soon as possible. To break the deadlock, it was necessary to appeal to the masses of Israelis over the heads of their militarist leaders and to convince them that they could achieve peace and security by evacuating the Arab territories occupied in 1967 and recognizing the establishment of a Palestinian state. According to this analysis, the weakness of the Israeli peace forces was a consequence of their isolation from progressive Arabs. A regional political realignment was possible if the progressive forces in the Arab world recognized, supported, and defended the Israeli peace camp, just as the Vietnamese National Liberation Front had established links with the U.S. antiwar movement.
Colonel Ahmad Hamrush, a former member of HADETU and a former Free Officer who had served as a liaison between HADETU and Abdel Nasser in the early 1950s, travelled to Paris in 1968 and decided on his own initiative to renew his contact with Curiel. He was impressed with Curiel's insistence that there were Israelis who favored an Arab-Israeli peace based on Israeli withdrawal from the Arab lands occupied in 1967 and reported their conversation to Abdel Nasser, who instructed Hamrush to pursue this contact. As a result, Curiel arranged informal meetings between Hamrush and Amos Kenan and Natan Yalin-Mor, who had been members of the Israeli Committee for a Free Algeria, as well as Labor Party Knesset member Lova Eliav and journalist Amnon Kapeliuk, who were new to this circle. Sa‘d Kamil, secretary of the Egyptian Partisans of Peace, participated in some of the meetings. Eventually, Abdel Nasser agreed to convene a meeting of Egyptian and Israeli delegates in Paris, under the auspices of a French government minister, but Golda Meir, then prime minister of Israel, rejected this proposal.
Striving to maintain the momentum, Yugoslavian President Josip Tito and the French journalist Eric Rouleau helped to arrange a meeting between Nahum Goldmann and Gamal Abdel Nasser in April 1970. Henri Curiel may have played a role in this endeavor as well. Both parties were willing to meet on the condition that the Israeli government be informed of their encounter at some later date. Neither Goldmann nor Abdel Nasser requested that the Israeli government approve their meeting in advance or grant it an official status. However, Golda Meir thwarted their initiative by asking the Israeli cabinet to approve the Nasser-Goldmann rendezvous. Some ministers informally supported such an encounter as a way to test whether Egypt had any serious intention of seeking a diplomatic resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Meir undermined these expressions of interest in a negotiated settlement by requesting a vote of approval for the proposed meeting by the cabinet. The Israeli government could not be a party to undermining its own sovereignty and Zionist ideology by appearing to delegate a noncitizen, diaspora Jew to negotiate on its behalf. Consequently, the cabinet voted not to authorize the meeting. After the proposed Nasser-Goldmann meeting fell through, Eric Rouleau tried to maintain the momentum by arranging a meeting between Goldmann and Ahmad Hamrush at his home in Paris.
The proposed Goldmann-Nasser meeting and Israel's role in blocking it were widely reported in the international press. Many Israelis, anxious to end the war of attrition with Egypt, break the Arab-Israeli impasse, and test Arab intentions, supported this modest undertaking. Hundreds of students at the Hebrew University disrupted traffic for hours on one of the main boulevards of Jerusalem to protest Golda Meir's intransigence and obstruction of an opportunity to pursue peace. This demonstration, one of the first acts of mass civil disobedience against the annexationist policies of the Israeli government, seemed to confirm the validity of Curiel's strategy.
Eric Rouleau, whose intermediary efforts were spurned by Golda Meir, is widely recognized as an exceptionally well informed and well connected journalist. He covered the Middle East for Le Monde for many years and subsequently served as French ambassador to Tunisia and Turkey during the presidency of François Mitterand. Serving as an intermediary in arranging an Arab-Jewish meeting was a new field of endeavor for him. But Rouleau's entire journalistic oeuvre, particularly his reporting on Egypt during the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, can be regarded as a project of cultural and political translation between his early life experiences as an Egyptian-born Jew and his adult professional world of French journalism, when he became especially close to the Egyptian president. Rouleau grew up in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis and had an intense interest in international affairs. After World War II he joined the Iskra communist group. When HADETU split into several fragments in 1948, Rouleau joined one of the most dogmatic splinters—the Egyptian Communist Organization (al-Munazzama al-Shuyu‘iyya al-Misriyya). He left Egypt for France and a career in journalism in 1950.
It is more than an ironic accident that the Egyptian ruler most excoriated by Israel and the West often selected an Arabic-speaking Jew as his favored journalistic conduit to the West. The symbolic significance of their connection could not have escaped either of the parties. Whether or not Rouleau or Abdel Nasser ever consciously thought of their relationship in these terms, the high level of rapport and understanding they developed over many years suggested the possibility of a different model for Arab-Jewish relations. Because Rouleau was neither a sycophant nor an uncritical supporter of Abdel Nasser, his judgment that the Egyptian president was not an anti-Semite is worth recording.
After Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat's trip to Jerusalem in 1977, Abu ‘Iyad (Salah Khalaf), a founder and leader of al-Fatah, the principal group in the PLO, asked Eric Rouleau to help him write his political autobiography. The exceptional circumstances of al-Sadat's peace initiative and the possibility that it would culminate in a separate Egyptian-Israeli peace probably impelled the PLO leadership to approve this effort to present the Palestinian cause in human terms that might receive a sympathetic hearing in the West. The leading members of the PLO rarely assigned much importance to this task.
The resulting text was the first extensive account of the life and political outlook of a historic leader of the PLO in a Western language—a tremendous professional scoop for Rouleau. Although he clearly stated his disagreement with some of Abu ‘Iyad's positions, especially on the legitimacy of attacks on unarmed civilians, such as the kidnapping of the members of the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics in September 1972, Rouleau was impressed by Abu ‘Iyad's skills as a negotiator. He also noted that Abu ‘Iyad was the first PLO leader who publicly advocated creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Rouleau's ability to perceive flexibility in the position of the PLO leader most closely identified with Black September and his empathic presentation of Abu ‘Iyad's personal history undoubtedly owes something to the commingling of Egyptian, Jewish, and French influences in his life. His familiarity with the Arab milieu and prestige as a leading French journalist positioned him well to serve as the transmitter of Abu ‘Iyad's narrative.
The meetings between Ahmad Hamrush and Israeli peace activists in Paris convinced Henri Curiel that there was a political basis for convening a nongovernmental Arab-Israeli peace conference that would bring together progressive Arabs, Israelis, and interested third parties. After receiving a green light from Gamal Abdel Nasser, Curiel and several former members of the Rome Group began to organize such a meeting in collaboration with Hamrush. As part of the preparatory arrangements, Khalid Muhyi al-Din travelled to Paris to meet Israelis who had been recommended to him by Hamrush. The preparations were interrupted by Abdel Nasser's death and Anwar al-Sadat's assumption of the presidency of Egypt. Because Khalid Muhyi al-Din had been close to HADETU and was identified with the left, the new regime ordered him placed under house arrest.
However, Anwar al-Sadat did not oppose extending peace feelers to Israel. In February 1971, in response to questions submitted to Israel and the belligerent Arab states by UN envoy Gunar Jaring, Egypt stated it was willing to sign a contractual peace agreement with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied in the 1967 war. The Israeli government failed to respond in a similar spirit to Jaring's questions, indicating it insisted on annexing at least some Arab territories. Because official channels were closed by Israel's intransigence, Anwar al-Sadat eventually authorized Khalid Muhyi al-Din to proceed with preparations for a nongovernmental international peace conference. Curiel and a few of his former Rome Group comrades now made the Middle East their personal priority and intensified their organizational work to prepare the peace conference.
The International Conference for Peace and Justice in the Middle East convened at Bologna, Italy, on May 11, 1973, under the auspices of the communist-led city council. It was the first public meeting of Arab and Israeli peace activists since the end of the Palestine mandate. The Israeli attendees included Yossi Amitai, Amos Kenan, Uri Avnery, Natan Yalin-Mor, and members of the Communist Party of Israel (RAKAH). Khalid Muhyi al-Din represented Egypt. Ahmad Hamrush was to have attended but did not because of the rupture in his relations with Anwar al-Sadat. Several of the Israeli participants had previously been introduced to Hamrush or Muhyi al-Din in Paris by Henri Curiel. Curiel himself did not attend the Bologna conference. His point of view was represented by Joyce Blau and Raymond Stambouli, former comrades in the Rome Group who were among the active organizers of the meeting.
No one was more aware of the limitations of the Bologna conference than Curiel himself. He noted the absence of Palestinian, Lebanese, and Algerian delegations; weak representation from Israel; lack of U.S. participation; significant absences of other non-Middle Eastern delegations; and a flawed final document. Nonetheless, Curiel insisted that this unprecedented encounter had rendered the hypothesis that there was a basis for understanding among progressive Arabs and Israelis credible. Consequently, he proposed that a second and much larger international conference be convened to continue the work begun at Bologna. However, the near victory of the Arabs in the 1973 war and Anwar al-Sadat's willingness to abandon his Russian patrons for the United States reconfigured the balance of forces in the Middle East and opened other, more daring possibilities.
The outcome of the 1973 war also convinced two young Egyptian Marxists, ‘Adil Rif‘at and Bahgat al-Nadi, who wrote under the pseudonym Mahmoud Hussein, that an Arab-Israeli dialogue was now possible and desirable. They sought out Israelis who supported the concept of Israeli evacuation of the Arab territories occupied in 1967, recognition of a Palestinian state, and peaceful coexistence with the Arab world. With the assistance of Jean Lacouture, they chose as their interlocutor a liberal historian, Saul Friedländer. Their colloquy was published as a book titled Arabs & Israelis: A Dialogue.
It is both unexpected and manifestly sensible that in one of the first published political exchanges between Israelis and Arabs, one of the two Arabs was also a Jew. ‘Adil Rif‘at is the nephew of Hillel Schwartz, the founder of Iskra. He had a stormy relationship with his parents and, after a teenage love affair with a young Muslim woman, converted to Islam and became estranged from his family.
‘Adil Rif‘at and Bahgat al-Nadi had belonged to one of the few communist tendencies that did not join the united Communist Party of Egypt in 1958: Wahdat al-Shuyu‘iyyin (Communist unity). Its leader, Ibrahim Fathi, was the most vitriolic of Henri Curiel's critics in the Egyptian communist movement. Rif‘at and al-Nadi were arrested and jailed with the other communist prisoners from 1959 to 1964. In prison, they developed a Maoist orientation. Consequently, they opposed the dissolution of the Egyptian communist parties in 1965. Their efforts to continue oppositional political activity led them to a clash with the regime at a time when most of the other communists and former communists were actively allying themselves with the Arab socialist phase of Nasserism. In 1966, they left Egypt for Paris. The Class Struggle in Egypt, 1945–1970 presents Mahmoud Hussein's comprehensive understanding of Egypt in Maoist terms, combining historical and sociopolitical analysis and a critique of the theory and practice of the Egyptian left. Their Maoist orientation allowed Mahmoud Hussein to develop close ties to the Palestinian armed resistance movement in the early 1970s, when the Soviet Union still kept its distance from the PLO because it disapproved of the PLO's military tactics and its goal of replacing Israel with a secular democratic Palestinian state. Mahmoud Hussein's relationship with the Palestinian resistance made them ideal interlocutors for an Israeli looking for a dialogue with Arabs at a time when the PLO was still reluctant to speak with Israelis and most Israelis regarded contacts with the “terrorist” PLO as treason.
In historical perspective, the contents of the discussion between Mahmoud Hussein and Saul Friedländer are less important than the fact that it took place. The flawed political assessments and fallacious historical arguments of both parties map the substantial perceptual gap between them. This dialogue derived its significance from the common belief of both parties that the requisites of a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict were an Israeli evacuation of all (or almost all) the territories occupied in 1967, at least partial Arab sovereignty in Jerusalem, and Palestinian national self-determination. However, in July 1974, when Mahmoud Hussein and Saul Friedländer met, Henry Kissinger had already begun to pursue an Arab-Israeli accommodation structured by a Pax Americana in the Middle East in which common understandings reached by individuals and groups concerned about achieving a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict were irrelevant.
Shortly after the publication of the dialogue between Mahmoud Hussein and Saul Friedländer in French, After the Guns Fall Silent: Peace or Armageddon in the Middle East by Mohamed Sid-Ahmed appeared in Arabic. Sid-Ahmed had been a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Egypt. After the dissolution of the communist parties, he became a prominent journalist. When Anwar al-Sadat legalized political parties, Sid-Ahmed became a leading member of the National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagammu‘), the left pole in the limited and strictly supervised multiparty system. Because it was published in Arabic by a journalist of repute identified with a current in Egyptian politics highly regarded elsewhere in the Arab world, After the Guns Fall Silent was a more consequential intervention in Arab politics than Mahmoud Hussein's discussion with Saul Friedländer. The book provoked a lively debate in the Arab world, where few political thinkers had previously raised the question of what kind of peace with Israel was possible or desirable. Sid-Ahmed and Mahmoud Hussein agreed that the consequences of the 1973 war made an Arab-Israeli accommodation possible for the first time. Sid-Ahmed implied that he agreed with Curiel and with Mahmoud Hussein that continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict was a barrier to social progress in the Arab world and that a diplomatic resolution of the conflict was therefore desirable in principle, even if it would not provide absolute justice for the Arab side. Perhaps the elements of commonality between the analyses of Mahmoud Hussein and Mohamed Sid-Ahmed owe something to the three years ‘Adil Rif‘at and Mohamed Sid-Ahmed shared a cell in the Wahat prison camp, where they were interned as communists from 1959 to 1964.
Arriving in France, ‘Adil Rif‘at was reunited with part of his family: his mother and half-brother, Benny Lévy, who had settled in Paris after the 1956 war. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lévy emerged as the leader of one of the boldest of the groups to the left of the Communist Party of France, La Gauche Proletarienne (Proletarian left). Lévy and his Maoist group won a significant popular base with tactics like stealing 50,000 Paris Metro tickets and redistributing them free of charge to passengers and kidnapping the manager of a Renault auto assembly plant. La Gauche Proletarienne also cultivated good relations with al-Fatah, the leading tendency in the PLO. Several of its members visited Palestinian refugee camps and commando bases in Jordan. Members of al-Fatah residing in France and La Gauche Proletarienne collaborated in organizing Arab workers in the Mouvement des Travailleurs Arabes (Arab workers' movement). There were also contacts between the underground section of La Gauche Proletarienne and armed elements of al-Fatah, although the French organization dissented from al-Fatah's attacks on unarmed civilians.
During the early 1970s, ‘Adil Rif‘at was primarily engaged in Egyptian emigre politics, while Benny Lévy's domain of struggle was France. In both arenas, the Palestinian resistance movement was a strategic ally. For Lévy, embracing the PLO opened a door to organizing the large immigrant Arab working class in France. Benny Lévy's origins as an Egyptian Jew prepared him to attach importance to the Arab immigrants, in contrast to the policy of the Communist Party of France, which discouraged its members from devoting significant efforts to organizing noncitizens with no right to vote. For Rif‘at, the PLO was the main force that continued to represent a revolutionary alternative in the Arab world after the defeat of 1967.
‘Adil Rif‘at may have been unconscious of any concern about his Jewish origins when he decided that the consequences of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War established a basis for an Arab-Israeli peace dialogue. Nonetheless, his outlook after 1973 situated him, along with Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, in the current of opinion within Egyptian Marxism that regarded the Arab-Israeli conflict as a barrier to social progress that should be resolved rather than an existential battle of national destiny. This commitment brought Rif‘at into contact with Israeli Jews like Saul Friedländer and, though there was never any organized collaboration among them, joined his efforts to those of other Egyptian Jews like Raymond Aghion, Henri Curiel, and Eric Rouleau.
Henri Curiel, the PLO, and the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
The 1973 Arab-Israeli War also prompted political rethinking among the ranks of the PLO. Elements of a new approach to the conflict with Israel were expressed in articles in The Times after the 1973 war by Sa‘id Hammami, the PLO's representative in London, and in an interview Na’if Hawatma, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, granted to the mass circulation Israeli daily Yedi‘ot Aharonot, on March 22, 1974. Although the Palestinian formulations were cautious and tentative, they hinted that a peaceful settlement of the dispute with Israel was possible on the basis of what came to be known as the “two-state solution”—Israeli evacuation from all the Arab territories occupied in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip alongside the state of Israel in its June 4, 1967, borders. In response to the circulation of such ideas among Palestinian political thinkers, the twelfth Palestine National Council meeting in June-July 1974 adopted a resolution in favor of establishing “the people's national, independent, and fighting authority on every part of Palestinian land to be liberated.”  This formulation was an ambiguous compromise that attempted to maintain unity within the PLO between proponents of the new thinking and adherents of the slogan “Revolution until Victory.” These trial balloons were ignored by the Israeli government. In the mid-1970s, only a small number of Jewish Israelis believed that an Israeli agreement with the PLO was an indispensable ingredient of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Most of them were in the orbit of the Communist Party (RAKAH), which represented the majority of Israel's Arab citizens, but only a few hundred Jews. As a largely Arab and non-Zionist political formation, RAKAH was outside the boundaries of Jewish politics in Israel. One of the few noncommunists who actively sought out the PLO was Uri Avnery.
Sa‘id Hammami's search for unofficial Israeli interlocutors after the Israeli government ignored his initiatives led him to meet with Uri Avnery in London in January 1975. Hammami hoped that if he identified representative Israelis who would engage in a dialogue with the PLO on the basis of the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it would be easier to win support for this approach within the PLO. As he had hinted to Avnery, on March 20, 1975, Hammami delivered a public speech in London titled “A Palestinian Strategy for Peaceful Coexistence: On the Future of Palestine” calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, mutual recognition, and a peace agreement between the two states. This was a major breakthrough in the evolution of Palestinian political thinking. Although Hammami did not abandon the ultimate ideal of a “democratic secular state,” in retrospect it is clear that his willingness to defer this goal to the indefinite future was the first step toward abandoning it altogether. Because there was no positive Israeli response to Hammami's signal of PLO moderation, few Arabs felt compelled to volunteer the concession of abandoning the vision of a democratic secular state until the PLO took this step in 1988.
Uri Avnery expected that such a significant public declaration by an authorized Palestinian spokesperson would compel a positive response from the Israeli government. But the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin utterly ignored and the mass media devoted little attention to Hammami's speech. Consequently, Avnery resolved to gather a small group of individuals who would be prepared to identify themselves as Zionists, unlike the communists whom Avnery detested and regarded as hopelessly unrepresentative, to promote a resolution to the conflict along the lines suggested by Hammami. Avnery believed that the PLO's commitment to the two-state solution would be deepened if a group of Zionist Israelis publicly supported it as well. Avnery and Yossi Amitai, a former Arab affairs activist in MAPAM who left the party when it established the electoral alignment with the Labor Party in 1969, drafted the founding manifesto of what came to be the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (ICIPP). Amos Kenan was abroad and had given Avnery a proxy to use his name for political purposes, so Kenan's name was added to the published statement without his having seen it. In February 1976, the ICIPP was expanded by the addition of Matti Peled, Me’ir Pa‘il, Lova Eliav, Ya‘akov Arnon, Eliyahu Eliashar, and David Shaham—prominent personalities formerly identified with the Labor Party. Pa‘il and Peled had served on the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces, the ultimate legitimation in Israeli politics. The reconstituted council published a new and somewhat watered-down manifesto endorsed by one hundred signatories. Hammami had promised Avnery that the PLO would begin a dialogue with a broad-based Israeli body that advocated establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The addition of defectors from the labor Zionist mainstream to the ICIPP—no prominent figures in the Labor Party were then willing to speak publicly with the PLO under any circumstances—meant that this dialogue could begin.
In May 1976, Rif‘at al-Sa‘id, a member of the recently reconstituted Communist Party of Egypt too young to have known Curiel in Egypt but closely identified with Curiel's most devoted followers within the communist movement, met with Yusuf Hazan and a Palestinian representative in Athens to discuss opening a PLO-Israeli dialogue. Yusuf Hazan was chosen to represent the Curielists because he was a relative of the wife of Abu Khalil, the PLO's representative in Dakar. In June, Henri Curiel called Daniel Amit, a professor of physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a peace activist associated with the Israeli New Left (SIAH) to a meeting in Yusuf Hazan's office attended by Curiel, Hazan, Joyce Blau, Raymond Stambouli, and Dr. ‘Isam Sartawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO. Sartawi asked to meet with representatives of the ICIPP, and Amit transmitted his request to Uri Avnery and Matti Peled.
On July 21, Matti Peled, Lova Eliav, Ya‘akov Arnon, and Yossi Amitai flew to Paris and met with ‘Isam Sartawi under the aegis of Henri Curiel and his friends. Curiel also arranged a meeting among Sartawi, the Israelis, and Pierre Mendès-France. Subsequently, Uri Avnery, Me’ir Pa’il, and the other members of the ICIPP Executive Committee also met with ‘Isam Sartawi and other PLO officials, including Abu Mazin, Abu Faysal, and Sabri Jiryis.
The Israelis involved in these encounters reported on them to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, elevating them to the status of indirect talks between the PLO and Israel. Nonetheless, Rabin continued to insist publicly that the PLO was not a partner for negotiations with Israel because negotiating with any Palestinian element would establish “a basis for the possibility of creating a third state between Israel and Jordan,” which Israel “firmly, clearly, categorically” opposed. The resignation of the Rabin government under a cloud of financial scandal on December 19, 1976, eliminated any possibility of an official Israeli response to the PLO's feelers.
Consequently, from December 1976 to May 1977, Henri Curiel and his friends organized a new round of meetings between representatives of the ICIPP and the PLO designed to enhance the prestige of the ICIPP. This objective required that the dialogue be made public, so on January 1, 1977, Curiel organized a press conference for Matti Peled and ‘Isam Sartawi in Paris, where the ongoing meetings of the two parties were acknowledged for the first time.
Sartawi's encounters with Zionist Israelis were sharply attacked by the hard-liners at the thirteenth session of the Palestine National Council in March 1977, where Yasir ‘Arafat publicly defended Sartawi, calling him “a great Palestinian patriot.”  However, the PNC's resolution on contacts with Israeli peace activists was vague. It affirmed “the significance of establishing relations and coordinating with the progressive and democratic Jewish forces inside and outside the occupied homeland, since those force are struggling against Zionism as a doctrine and practice.” 
This formulation seemed to disavow the talks between ‘Isam Sartawi and the members of the ICIPP organized by Henri Curiel because it suggested that contacts should be maintained only with non-Zionist Israelis. Although the relationship of some of its members to Zionism was rather attenuated, the ICIPP defined itself as a Zionist body. Uri Avnery and the members of the ICIPP were deeply offended by the rebuff. In contrast, Henri Curiel decided that the Palestine National Council resolution actually endorsed his efforts because, “through a remarkable piece of exegesis, Israelis who accepted Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these territories…were not to be considered Zionists.”  Curiel's analysis was overly optimistic but characteristic of the political acrobatics that enabled him to persist in the face of apparent failure.
The clear preference of the PLO for contacts with non-Zionist Israelis led to breaking off the official contacts between members of the ICIPP and the PLO. Any chance that they might be resumed was destroyed when the Likud came to power in the Israeli elections of May 17, 1977. Faced with an ideologically intransigent Israeli government, the PLO seemed to have little to gain from continuing contacts with Israelis if this only sharpened the differences within the PLO. On the Israeli side, Anwar al-Sadat's trip to Jerusalem in November 1977 diminished the importance of contacts with the PLO. As Egyptian-Israeli negotiations became the main act in the protracted and convoluted diplomatic performance designated as “the peace process,” the PLO focused its attention on trying to block the conclusion of a separate Egyptian-Israeli agreement that did not address the question of Palestine. As it turned out, this was exactly the character of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty signed in 1979.
Henri Curiel was assassinated in Paris on May 4, 1978, by unknown assailants. Suspicions focused on the Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal and right wingers in the camp of the former Algerian colons. But the French authorities never resolved the case. Sa‘id Hammami had been assassinated exactly four months earlier, possibly also by agents of Abu Nidal. Curiel's demise and the start of direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel brought an end to the role of Egyptian Jews as mediators in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The efforts of Curiel and others were not a great success. A failed Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982, the Palestinian intifada of 1987–91, and the devastation of Kuwait and Iraq in the Gulf War, which left the administration of President George Bush heavily indebted to several Arab states, were required to bring about the start of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in 1991 under far worse circumstances and with less likelihood of reaching a just and lasting peace than might have prevailed over a decade earlier. Nonetheless, Didar Rossano-Fawzy took great pleasure in noting that the handshake seen around the world between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir ‘Arafat on September 13, 1993, took place on the birthday of Henri Curiel.
1. For further details and documentation about the communist movement in Egypt during this period, see Joel Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948–1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). [BACK]
2. Henri Curiel, Pages autobiographiques (1977, typescript), p. 54 and appendix, “Les principales étapes de la lutte intérieur qui s'ést déroulée autour du MDLN durant l'année Mai 1947-Juin 1948, dite année de l'unité” (rapport addressé par Henri Curiel à ses camarades du MDLN à la fin de 1955), p. 7. [BACK]
3. Gilles Perrault, Un homme à part (Paris: Bernard Barrault, 1984), p. 195. A Man Apart (London: Zed Books, 1987) is an abridged English translation of the first part of the book but omits the passage referred to in this note. [BACK]
4. Marcel Israel, letter to Gilles Perrault (n.d., typescript response to Un homme à part). [BACK]
5. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 195; English edition, p. 146. [BACK]
6. This organization adopted several different names: New Dawn, Popular Vanguard for Liberation, Popular Democracy, Workers' Vanguard, and, finally, in 1957 the Workers' and Peasants' Communist Party. [BACK]
7. Hilmi Yasin, interview, Cairo, May 25, 1986. [BACK]
8. Fu’ad Mursi, interview, Cairo, May 19, 1986. [BACK]
9. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 199; English edition, p. 149. [BACK]
10. Sa‘d Zahran, Fi usul al-siyyasa al-misriyya: maqal tahlili naqdi fi al-ta’rikh al-siyyasi (Cairo: Dar al-Mustaqbal al-‘Arabi, 1985), p. 139. [BACK]
11. Quoted in Selma Botman, The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939–70 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988), pp. 94–95 [BACK]
12. Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, interview, Cairo, June 22, 1992. [BACK]
13. Curiel explained why HADETU supported the partition of Palestine in an interview in Rif‘at al-Sa‘id, al-Yasar al-misri wa’l-qadiyya al-filastiniyya (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1974), p. 284. The introductions by Ra’uf ‘Abbas and ‘Izzat Riyad to Ra’uf ‘Abbas (ed.), Awraq hinri kuriyal wa’l-haraka al-shuyu‘iyya al-misriyya (Cairo: Sina li’l-Nashr, 1988) and Ibrahim Fathi, Hinri kuriyal didda al-haraka al-shuyu‘iyya al-‘arabiyya: al-qadiyya al-filastiniyya (Cairo: Dar al-Nadim, 1989) crudely reproduce charges of Curiel's Zionist sympathies without critically evaluating the evidence. [BACK]
14. Curiel, Pages autobiographiques, p. 57. [BACK]
15. Arrest warrant quoted in Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 213. [BACK]
16. Ibid., p. 220. [BACK]
17. The total contribution of the members of the Rome Group to their comrades in Egypt was fifteen million (old) francs according to Yusuf Hazan, ibid., p. 274. [BACK]
18. Ibid., p. 215. [BACK]
19. Ibid., p. 263; English edition, p. 193. [BACK]
20. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 508. [BACK]
21. Jonathan Boyarin, Polish Jews in Paris: The Ethnography of Memory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991). [BACK]
22. Bulletin d'études et d’information sur l'Egypte et le Soudan no. 17 (Aug. 1952), Henri Curiel Papers. [BACK]
23. “The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, an Alienation of Egypt's National Sovereignty, a Danger for Asia's and World Security” (n.d., mimeographed) and “To the Conference of African and Asian Countries” (Apr. 18, 1955, mimeographed), both in Henri Curiel Papers. [BACK]
24. For details, see Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? pp. 153–59. [BACK]
25. Ahmad Hamrush, interview, Cairo, Jan. 14, 1996. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 271, relates the same story with somewhat different details. [BACK]
26. Rif‘at al-Sa‘id, Ta’rikh al-haraka al-shuyu‘iyya al-misriyya: al-wahda, al-inqisam, al-hall, 1957–1965 (Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida, 1986), p. 88. [BACK]
27. “Khitab ila al-maktab al-siyasi,” Jan. 12, 1958, Henri Curiel Papers. [BACK]
28. Edward W. Said, “The Mind of Winter: Reflections on Life in Exile” Harper's, Sept. 1984, p. 51. [BACK]
29. For an example of the kind of information on the political prisoners in Egypt provided to the European public, see Adel Montasser, “La répression anti-democratique en Egypte,” Les Temps Modernes 16 (Aug.–Sept. 1960):418–41. [BACK]
30. Quoted in Perrault, Un homme á part, p. 287. [BACK]
31. Didar Rossano-Fawzy, interview, Paris, June 22, 1994. [BACK]
32. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 299. [BACK]
33. Ibid., p. 351. [BACK]
34. Ibid., pp. 352–53. [BACK]
35. Ibid., p. 370. [BACK]
36. Ibid., p. 365. [BACK]
37. Georges Suffert, “Le patron des résaux d'aide aux terroristes,” Le Point, June 21, 1976, pp. 52–57. For a point-by-point refutation, see Perrault, Un homme à part, pp 546–48. [BACK]
38. Suffert, “Le patron des résaux d'aide aux terroristes,” p. 57. [BACK]
39. Quoted in Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 351. [BACK]
40. Said, “The Mind of Winter,” p. 53. [BACK]
41. Raymond Aghion, interview, Paris, May 11, 1994. [BACK]
42. Pierre Mendès-France, “Au Moyen-Orient, comme au Viêt-nam, la paix est un devoir,” Le Nouvel Observateur, Apr. 24–30, 1968, p. 24. [BACK]
43. Raymond Aghion, interview, Paris, May 23, 1994. Aghion also showed me copies of the correspondence between himself and Pierre Mendès-France. [BACK]
44. Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 533–35; Uri Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy (Westport, Conn.: Lawrence & Hill, 1986), p. 30. [BACK]
45. Henri Curiel, “Note aux camarades égyptiens sur la nécessité de la poursuite de la lutte pour la paix,” in Pour une paix juste au proche-orient (Paris: n.p., 1980), pp. 111–12. Hebrew edition: ‘Al mizbeah ha-shalom (Jerusalem: Mifras, 1982). [BACK]
46. This argument is developed in detail in Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? [BACK]
47. Hamrush, interview. Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 535–36, presents a slightly different version of these events. [BACK]
48. Hamrush, interview. [BACK]
49. For example, New York Times, Apr. 6, 8, 1970. [BACK]
50. Eric Rouleau, interview, Paris, May 15, 1994. [BACK]
51. Abu Iyad with Eric Rouleau, My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle (New York: Times Books, 1981). French edition: Palestinien sans patrie (Paris: Fayolle, 1978). [BACK]
52. Hamrush, interview. [BACK]
53. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 552. [BACK]
54. Hamrush, interview. [BACK]
55. Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 537–38; Curiel, ‘Al mizbeah ha-shalom, p. 15. [BACK]
56. Curiel, “Pour un ‘second Bologne,’” in Pour une paix juste au proche-orient, pp. 152–55. [BACK]
57. Mahmoud Hussein, letter to the editor of Nouvel Observateur, Oct. 22, 1973. [BACK]
58. Saul Friedländer and Mahmoud Hussein, moderated by Jean Lacouture, Arabs & Israelis: A Dialogue (New York: Holmes & Meir, 1975). [BACK]
59. See Fathi, Hinri kuriyal didda al-haraka al-shuyu‘iyya al-‘arabiyya. [BACK]
60. Mahmoud Hussein, The Class Struggle in Egypt, 1945–1970 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973). [BACK]
61. Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, After the Guns Fall Silent: Peace or Armageddon in the Middle East (London: Croom Helm, 1976). Arabic edition: Ba‘da an tasquta al-madafi‘ (Beirut: Dar al-Qadaya, 1975). [BACK]
62. Ilan Halevi, interview, Paris, June 24, 1993. Benny Lévy is today the head of a yeshiva (religious seminary) in Strasbourg. [BACK]
63. The Times, Nov. 16, Dec. 17, 1973. [BACK]
64. Quoted in Alain Gresh, The PLO: The Struggle Within: Towards an Independent Palestine (London: Zed Books, 1985), p. 168. Gresh does a fine job of recounting the debates leading to this formulation in this book dedicated “To Issam Sartawi and Henri Curiel who died that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples might live in peace.” Yusuf Hazan is also mentioned in the acknowledgments. [BACK]
65. Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy, pp. 53–55. [BACK]
66. Ibid., pp. 40–55, 71–73, 92–96, 119. [BACK]
67. Ibid., p. 119–21; Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 542–44. [BACK]
68. Gresh, The PLO: The Struggle Within, p. 197. [BACK]
69. Ma‘ariv, Dec. 5, 1976. [BACK]
70. Gresh, The PLO: The Struggle Within, p. 197; Perrault, Un homme à part, p.567. Perrrault's dates are Sept. 1976 to Mar. 1977. Because Gresh was much closer to the participants and his political analysis is superior to Perrault's, I have chosen his version. [BACK]
71. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 568; Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy, pp. 153–56. [BACK]
72. Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy. p. 160. [BACK]
73. Quoted in Gresh, The PLO: The Struggle Within, p. 199. [BACK]
74. Ibid. [BACK]
75. Didar Rossano-Fawzy, interview. [BACK]
7. The Karaites of the San Francisco Bay Area
The Karaite community of San Francisco was already well established when I began teaching at Stanford University in 1983, but I was completely unaware of it. The local Karaite Jewish community was not widely known or discussed. The fact that Karaites still existed at all was a bit of exotic specialized knowledge shared by a few individuals with an esoteric interest in their history and religious traditions. It was not integrated into the canons of modern Egyptian or modern Jewish history. I was circuitously introduced to the community in San Francisco through my friendship with one of the few remaining Karaites in Cairo, and my interest in them was shaped by this connection.
While conducting research for my Ph.D. thesis in Cairo in 1980, I met Nawla Darwish and spent time in her house reading the papers of her father, Yusuf Darwish. In 1986, I was again living in Cairo when Yusuf Darwish and his wife, Iqbal, returned to Egypt after living abroad as political refugees and representatives of the Communist Party of Egypt. Yusuf Darwish had been involved in the reorganization of the Communist Party, which publicly resumed its existence in 1975 after a ten-year hiatus. When he learned that the police were aware of his political activities, the Darwishes left Egypt shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Yusuf had already spent three terms in prison in Egypt and did not wish to risk a fourth.
Yusuf Darwish was born into the Karaite community; Iqbal was a Rabbanite Jew. In Egypt, as in Israel, civil law incorporates religious law to adjudicate matters of personal status. Marriage and similar issues were determined by the religious laws of each confessional community (administered by communal religious courts until 1955) supervised by the civil courts. Hence, Yusuf and Iqbal could not be married as Jews unless Yusuf converted to Rabbanite Judaism, a long and difficult process in which, as a communist, he had no interest. It was much easier for Yusuf to undergo the relatively quick and simple procedure of converting to Islam. This enabled him to marry Iqbal in 1949 because Muslim men may marry Jewish and Christian women. Neither Yusuf nor Iqbal was observant, so the conversion was a formality for both of them. Nonetheless, when the three principal tendencies in the communist movement united to form the Communist Party of Egypt in 1958 and resolved that Jews could not be members of the Central Committee, Yusuf Darwish was excluded from the leadership of the party on the grounds that he was a Jew. Their daughter, Nawla, is Jewish according to Rabbinic halakhah (religious law) and Muslim according to the shari‘a. She prefers to define herself as Egyptian.
Although I had spent many hours formally and informally interviewing Yusuf Darwish about his life history and political experiences, I did not know that he had family in the United States until the fall of 1990, when he wrote me to announce that he was coming to visit his sister, Nelly Masliah, in San Francisco and invited me to call her so that we could all get together. This served as the occasion for my introduction to the Karaite Jewish community of San Francisco.
Jacob and Nelly Masliah invited my family to dinner with Yusuf at their home. They prepared a copious Egyptian meal and welcomed us warmly. Yusuf would normally have spoken to his family in French. But because I am more comfortable in Arabic than French, and Yusuf's English is weak, the easiest common language was Arabic. The cuisine, the social ambience, and the Arabic conversation recalled our best moments in Cairo. Yusuf also visited a second sister in the Boston area while I was in town for a meeting of the Middle East Studies Association. There I met Yvonne Masliah and her family and enjoyed another fine Egyptian dinner with Arabic conversation. Afterwards I arranged to have the video cassettes of recent Egyptian films that Yusuf had brought as presents for his family converted from PAL to NTSC format. They seemed eager to view these films, which suggested that they remained curious about Egypt and still felt a positive connection to its culture.
Thus, Boston and San Francisco were added to Cairo and Paris on the list of locales where my common language with other Jews was Arabic. This would have been normal in the Mediterranean basin in the medieval era, but in the late twentieth century it felt subversive. The American Karaites certainly do not see themselves in political terms, and they are generally uninvolved in the debates over the cultural politics of ethnic identity in the American Jewish community. Nonetheless, it seemed to me the practices of the Karaites of San Francisco resisted incorporation into many prevailing assumptions about Jewish identity and Arab-Jewish relations. This attracted me to take an interest in their community even before I began to think systematically about the subject of this book. Therefore, when I resolved to write about Egyptian Jews, I was in a position to discuss them in more detail than others who have previously written about Jews in modern Egypt. My argument for the validity of doing so is presented in Chapter 2. Because I could not eliminate from my consciousness the personal relationships I had formed, the bits of information I had already learned, and the contacts that were available to me as a consequence, my roles as friend, historian, and ethnographer were woven in a fabric that could not be usefully unraveled.
The Karaite Emigration From Egypt
According to an informal Jewish Agency census, nineteen Karaites resided in Jerusalem in 1939. But by 1948, only one Karaite (of undetermined origins) remained there to preserve the Karaite community's claim to their property: the most ancient standing synagogue in the old city. After the first Arab-Israeli war, a small number of Karaites began to leave Egypt and establish themselves in Israel. The first to leave were the poorest members of the community or exceptional families of means who could transfer their assets out of Egypt. Business and property owners tended to remain in Egypt longer. The Karaites were not keen to transform themselves from urban merchants and craftsmen to rural farmers and physical laborers, the ideal of labor Zionism and the likely fate of new immigrants to Israel. They were also fearful of the difficult economic and political circumstances of Israel during the early 1950s.
According to the records of the Karaite bet din (religious court) in Cairo, fewer than 100 Karaites left Egypt before 1956. This is probably an underestimate. Families who departed for Israel may not have reported their departure to the court for fear of implicating the community in their actions. Moreover, members of the community who did not attend synagogue regularly might not have been in close contact with the communal authorities. Maurice Shammas estimated that by the time he arrived in Israel in 1950, 500 Karaites already resided there. The daughter of the first Karaite chief rabbi of Israel, who arrived in Israel in 1949 at the age of nine, thought that there were 200–300 Karaite families in the country by the 1956 Suez/Sinai War.
The policy of the Jewish Agency and Israeli government was to concentrate Middle Eastern Jews in new moshavim (agricultural cooperative villages) or development towns in remote parts of the country. The Karaite immigrants were settled in the moshavim of Matzliah and Ranen, established in 1950 and 1951, respectively. Karaites also settled in the town of Ramlah, their historic center in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The central synagogue of the community, which is now the Karaite World Center, opened there in 1961. When the Karaite population in Israel increased in the late 1950s and 1960s, urban concentrations were established at Ashdod, Be’ersheba, and Ofakim. Karaites also live in the greater Tel Aviv area (especially Bat Yam), Yavneh, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malakhi, Acre, Bet Shemesh, and Jerusalem, where a Karaite bet midrash (religious seminary) has recently been established. The number of Karaites in Israel has always been sharply disputed and cannot be established with certainty because the official Israeli census does not list Karaites as a category and the community abides by the traditional Jewish prohibition on conducting a direct census. Figures range from 15,000 to 30,000.
Upon arriving in Israel, the Egyptian Karaites were surprised to find that the Orthodox Rabbinic establishment there was suspicious about their identity as Jews. Until 1977, the pragmatic alliance between MAPAI and the Orthodox Zionist Mizrahi Party (today the National Religious Party), allowed MAPAI to run the Israeli government in exchange for adopting the status quo as it had crystallized during the Mandate and Ottoman eras on religious matters. Consequently, in Israel matters of personal status are, with some exceptions, adjudicated according to the halakhah. The state has declared what defines who is a Jew, but the Orthodox rabbinate has the sole legal authority to determine who may be married as a Jew, buried in a Jewish cemetery, and so forth. The rulings of Orthodox Rabbinic religious courts (batei din) are the normal forum for adjudicating such matters, although civil courts have some authority to intervene. These courts regard the Karaites as under suspicion of being bastards (safek mamzerim). Hence, they are not eligible marriage partners for Jews, even Jews who are unconcerned with the status of Karaites according to halakhah, because the only legal way to be married as a Jew in Israel is for an Orthodox rabbi to perform the ceremony.
The Karaites have their own bet din. However, the authorities of the state and the Orthodox rabbinate do not recognize its rulings or jurisdiction. It has only de facto authority among members of the Karaite community who voluntarily accept its rulings.
Prodded by the personal interest of its second president, Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, the state of Israel decided to treat the Karaites as Jews and subjected them to compulsory military service, the most significant marker of Jewish identity in Israel. However, in matters over which the state has ceded its authority to the Orthodox rabbinate, the validity of the Karaites as a Jewish religious community is constantly subjected to question. This embarrasses many secular Zionists. But they have not mounted a sustained campaign to rectify this anomaly because it would require a direct challenge to the secular authority of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel and provoke a Jewish kulturkampf for which Zionism does not have a resolution consistent with the political discourse of secular nationalism, citizenship, and equal rights.
Sumi Colligan's perceptive doctoral thesis succinctly summarizes the transformation of Karaite Jewish identity that accompanied the transition from Egypt to Israel:
In Egypt, the Karaites were recognized as a Jewish minority and lived as other minorities in the Middle East, endogamously and self-governing. The general societal ideology which structured their identity was religious communalism and hence, the expression of the content of their Jewishness was not obstructed or questioned. Both the Karaites and the other members of Egyptian society shared the same set of concepts and symbols regarding the structuring of social identity. In Israel, however, other ideologies of “Jewishness” have challenged the grounds on which the Karaites make claims to Jewish identity, and for the majority of Israelis, Karaite is the form, the social category, by which the group is designated. That is to say, many Israelis have a tendency to think of Karaites less as a type of Jew than as a separate social group altogether.
This perception is shaped by nationalist practices that legitimize the particularist prejudices of the Orthodox rabbinate, which went so far as to attempt to keep the Karaites out of Israel altogether. In 1949, the ‘Aliyah Department of the Jewish Agency acceded to pressure from representatives of Mizrahi in the Jewish Agency Executive and asked its agents in Egypt to halt the immigration of Karaites to Israel. The local Egyptian ‘aliyah activists rejected this demand. Egyptian members of Bnai ‘Akivah, the Orthodox Zionist youth movement, appealed to the Mizrahi Women's Organization in the United States to persuade their Israeli compatriots to relent. The Egyptian Zionists declared that they would not allow a single Jew to leave for Israel if this decision were not reversed. In fact, immigration was actually stopped for a month in 1950 until instructions were received permitting Karaites to come to Israel.
Because the Orthodox rabbinate never fully accepted the state's determination that the Karaites were Jews eligible for ‘aliyah, members of the community continued to suffer considerable difficulties after arriving in Israel. One of the most publicized examples concerned Yosef Marzuq, the brother of Moshe Marzuq, who was executed for his role in Operation Susannah. In 1961, Yosef Marzuq wanted to marry a Rabbanite woman. The rabbinate of Tel Aviv refused to approve this union. Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi intervened on Marzuq's behalf, both because of Marzuq's brother's services to the state of Israel and because of his long-standing support for the Karaites. As a result, the case was transferred to the more lenient Haifa rabbinate, which issued Marzuq a bachelor's certificate, the requisite document to permit his marriage. But the Rabbinic court made it clear that this would not be a precedent for future Karaite-Rabbanite mixed marriages. Secularist Zionists considered it a great scandal that the brother of someone who gave his life for the Jewish state had difficulty being married as a Jew in Israel.
The Karaite chief rabbi, Tuvia Babovitch, did not encourage Karaite immigration to Israel because of the unsettled political conditions and problematic status of Karaites there. Of course, as a matter of religious conviction, Babovitch, like all observant Jews, believed that Jews had a special attachment to the holy land, especially to Jerusalem. But like many Orthodox rabbis in the first half of the twentieth century, Babovitch did not endorse political Zionism. His attitude undoubtedly influenced many Karaites to remain in Egypt after 1948 and to carry on their communal life as normally as possible. Rabbi Babovitch died in August 1956 and was not replaced. There was no Egyptian Karaite sufficiently learned in the religious tradition to undertake this duty.
This cannot be attributed to the maltreatment of Jews in Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s. Babovitch himself was brought from the Crimea to assume the position of Karaite chief rabbi in 1934. Already at that time, when there was little mistreatment of Jews in Egypt, most members of the Karaite community who had the intellectual talent and interest to pursue advanced studies sought secular rather than religious careers. This was no different from the prevalent pattern among Rabbanite Jews. But the small Karaite community apparently failed to produce a sufficient number of piously minded exceptions to sustain and reproduce their religious institutions.
With the outbreak of the 1956 Suez/Sinai War, the principal of the Karaite elementary schools, Mourad El-Kodsi, was interned. Thereafter, the government gradually diminished the Karaite community's control over its schools until they were nationalized in 1962. The community's Arabic newspaper, al-Kalim, also closed after the 1956 war. The death of its chief rabbi and the demise of the community institutions as a result of the 1956 war precipitated the rapid decline of the Karaite community. Its collapse was more dramatic than the similar and parallel process in the Rabbanite community because before the 1956 war, a larger proportion of Karaites than Rabbanites remained in Egypt despite the difficult circumstances.
Between October 1956 and March 1957, some 40 percent of the Karaites (and a similar proportion of Rabbanites) left Egypt, mostly for Israel. Still, some 2,000 Karaites remained in Cairo when Mourad El-Kodsi left in 1959. The nationalization of large sectors of the economy during 1960–62 impelled a third wave of immigration, though 1,000 Karaites remained in Egypt until October 1966, the date of the last communal elections. By 1970, only 200 Karaites remained in Egypt, a number too small to maintain a communal structure.
The Karaite Jews of Egypt in Baghdad by the Bay
Most of the Karaites who emigrated from Egypt during the 1960s did not go to Israel. Between 1964 and 1970, a substantial segment of the community settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are now some 130 Karaite families and a total population of over 400. In addition, 300 Karaite families live elsewhere in the United States, with small concentrations in the New York, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego metropolitan areas. The Karaites of the San Francisco Bay Area have made substantial efforts to reestablish their community. This has entailed preserving and modifying both the Jewish and Egyptian elements of the practices and self-presentation of the Karaite community of Cairo.
Coming to the United States, like coming to Israel, was a great psychological upheaval for the Karaites. In America, “We were no longer privileged khawagat (foreigners). I had never worked for anyone else before. Now we were at the bottom of the social pyramid and rejected as Jews,” said the community's acting rabbi, Joe Pessah. The Karaite immigrants to the San Francisco Bay Area belong to several generations; some arrived in their early teens, and others were in their early fifties. Many of them had belonged to the urban middle strata in Cairo, working as merchants in gold or other goods, jewelers, and professionals. Only four of thirty respondents to a questionnaire administered by Jehoash Hirshberg to the San Francisco Karaites in 1986 had lived in the traditional Karaite quarter, harat al-yahud al-qara’in, in Cairo. Only one of them, Joe Pessah, had attended daily prayers at the Dar Simha synagogue there. Fifteen respondents had lived in the middle-class neighborhood of ‘Abbasiyya; Jacob Masliah was one of only a dozen people who had participated in daily prayers at the Moshe al-Dar‘i synagogue there. Most of the other congregants of the ‘Abbasiyya synagogue had attended services only on Friday night and holidays. Upon arriving in the United States, a high proportion of the Karaites entered technical professions, especially the computer industry. Most of the Karaite immigrants have maintained the economic status they enjoyed in Egypt or improved their conditions in the United States.
I compiled the following vignettes through formal interviews and informal participant observation at various events of the Karaite community. They demonstrate a range of ways in which the San Francisco Karaites both maintained their Egyptian communitarian identity, which was (always) already being reshaped, and began the process of adapting to America and the norms of its Jewish community.
Jacob Masliah (Ya‘qub Farag Salih, b. 1913) has been a leading member of the San Francisco Karaite community. His identity has been shaped by a rich fabric of social experience in Egypt and the United States refracted through deep religious commitment and substantial learning in the Karaite tradition and draws on both the millet-communitarian and the Egyptian national elements of the Karaites' self-conception in Egypt. In some important respects, his background differs from the majority of the Egyptian Karaites because the Masliahs were relatively new to Egypt, having emigrated from Tunis in the nineteenth century. Moreover, Jacob Masliah was not employed in the Karaite ethnic economy, although he did use his family connections to enhance his career. He was one of some 150 Karaites who worked in the free professions in the 1940s. Hence, his family enjoyed a comfortable upper-middle-class life.
In other respects, the Masliah family was similar to other Karaites. Jacob Masliah knew Arabic well and felt culturally, socially, and economically secure in Egypt at the same time that he remained fully conscious of his status as a member of an ethnoreligious minority. He graduated first in his class with a degree in architecture from the Royal Engineering College in Cairo in 1936. He was very proud of this achievement and the opportunity it afforded him to be photographed with King Fu’ad. Shortly after graduating, Masliah submitted a request for a certificate of citizenship so that he could work for the government. The request remained pending when he left Egypt in 1964.
Masliah worked designing air raid shelters and other military structures in the Alexandria area during World War II. Then he established a partnership with Nasim Yahya, a member of one of the leading Muslim business families of Alexandria. The legal aspects of the partnership were arranged by his brother-in-law, Yusuf Darwish, a founding member of the New Dawn communist group and a prominent Cairo area labor lawyer.
Among Masliah's design projects was the shrimp processing factory in Port Said established by another brother-in-law, Leon Darwish. This was a new area of economic endeavor for the Karaite community because shrimp is not a kosher food in the Jewish tradition. The factory was quite successful and built up a substantial export trade. During the wave of nationalizations in 1961, Leon Darwish was forced to hire a Muslim to manage the factory. Consequently, he left Egypt in 1962.
Jacob and Nelly Masliah made their home in the fashionable suburb of Heliopolis, far from the center of the community in harat al-yahud al-qara’in. They belonged to the Heliopolis Sporting Club, where Nelly taught exercise classes for women. The wife of ‘Abd al-Latif Baghdadi, one of the original members of the Revolutionary Command Council that governed Egypt after the coup of July 23, 1952, was a student in one of Nelly's classes. Jacob joined a Masonic lodge and rose to the status of third degree freemason. Seventy percent of the members of his lodge were Jews. But the lodge was affiliated with the Masonic federation of the Arab countries and considered itself Egyptian.
Nadia Hartmann, one of Jacob and Nelly's two daughters, was a member of the Egyptian national water ballet team in high school. I met her at her parents' home and asked her about her memories of Egypt. One of her strongest and most detailed recollections was of her trip to Syria in 1961 with the water ballet team to participate in a pan-Arab swimming competition. Before the trip, Nadia's schoolteacher called to assure the Masliah family that they should have no fears about Nadia travelling to Syria to represent Egypt because the school considered her to be an Egyptian like any other student. In recalling her trip to Syria, Nadia's face lit up with excitement. She emphasized that she still remembered the trip “like it happened yesterday.”  Preservation of this memory with warm intensity seemed to be a way for Nadia to preserve a positive connection with Egypt.
At the Heliopolis Sporting Club, Nadia became friendly with Shuhdan al-Shazli, the daughter of Sa‘d al-Din al-Shazli, who later became a general and one of the Egyptian heroes of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. In the late 1970s, the al-Shazlis were forced to leave Egypt because of General al-Shazli's criticism of Anwar al-Sadat. Shuhdan al-Shazli eventually made a new home for herself in Sacramento, California. Nadia Hartmann and Shuhdan al-Shazli renewed their friendship when they met in California as exiles from Egypt.
Until the early 1960s, the Masliahs did not feel discriminated against as Jews in Egypt because “the Karaite Jews of Egypt have a special character that is different from other Jews,” as Jacob Masliah explained. He felt that the Karaites' Arabic cultural orientation made them a more integral part of Egypt than other Jews. Then, in 1962, they were asked to stop coming to the Heliopolis Sporting Club. The women in Nelly Masliah's exercise class very much regretted her leaving the club and came to the Masliahs' home in Heliopolis to carry on with their class. But in November 1964, the Masliah family left Egypt because the Karaite community was dwindling in size and they did not want their daughters to marry non-Jews.
Although economic conditions in Israel were considerably improved in the mid-1960s, the Masliahs did not want to live in Israel because they considered the situation there too unstable. They visited Israel for three days on their way to the United States. They chose San Francisco because some of their friends had already settled in the area and because of the city's reputation for good weather. By 1968, Jacob Masliah was working in his profession for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Ten years later, he retired at the age of sixty-five, though he continued to work for ten more years in the business of a friend. Economically, they have adjusted well and prospered in the United States. They eventually bought a home in San Francisco's Sunset district, a comfortable, middle-class neighborhood within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean.
The social and economic status of the family of Henry Mourad (b. 1945) in Egypt was similar to that of the Masliahs. The Mourads lived in the heavily Rabbanite neighborhood of Dahir, where Henry attended the Ecole du Commaunauté Israelite du Caire. As a young man, Henry was fluent in Arabic and felt he could easily pass for a Muslim. The Mourads were Egyptian citizens and quite comfortable economically. Henry's grandfather owned a jewelry company, one of the traditional economic pursuits of the community. The Mourad family business was sequestered during the 1956 war and nationalized in 1961. Forced to abandon most of their property and assets, the family left Egypt for the United States in 1964. Henry still remembers with bitterness the personal humiliation and degradation they suffered at the time of their departure.
Henry Mourad's social interactions with non-Jewish Egyptians became strained because the Arab-Israeli conflict emerged as a prominent political issue during his years in high school and university. After being harassed and taunted as a Jew while studying engineering at Cairo University, he pretended to be a Muslim. He remembers feeling proud about Moshe Marzuq's spying and sabotage on behalf of Israel, although he understood that he had to denounce these activities in public.
When I asked Henry Mourad if he felt Egyptian, he was ambivalent. He remembered liking Egypt and feeling comfortable in Arabic, but he resented the abuse and discrimination he suffered. “You can't be Egyptian if you are not accepted,” he said.
Henry's wife, Doris (b. 1948), responded much more definitively that she never felt Egyptian. Her family held Tunisian citizenship and lived in the elite neighborhood of Zamalek, far from either of the two Karaite synagogues in Cairo. Her father did not participate in activities of the Karaite community. Doris attended the Lycée Française of Zamalek, where she refused to learn Arabic because she felt it was unnecessary. For this, she was left back a year in school. She felt isolated both from the Karaite community and from other Egyptians. Her family emigrated to the United States in 1962, when she was fourteen.
Doris Mourad's unequivocal rejection of any sentiments of identity as an Egyptian may be due to her family's distance from the Karaite community in Egypt and her isolation as a child. Moreover, she arrived in the United States as a young teenager, an age when social pressure to conform is extremely intense. Her lack of identification with Egypt is rare among Karaites I have met.
The Mourads live in the suburban midpeninsula area, an hour away from San Francisco. They joined a Reform Jewish temple, and their daughters attended its religious school and participated in its youth activities. They continue to identify as Karaites and take an interest in the cultural heritage of their community. But they do not think their Karaite identity should constitute a barrier to their participation in and identification with their local Jewish community.
Assimilation and Estrangement From the Jewish Community
As a minority within a minority, Karaites in the United States faced powerful assimilationist pressures. Even deeply religious individuals, like Jacob Masliah and Joe Pessah, acknowledged that they were too constrained by the economic burdens of settling their families in a new country, establishing careers, and educating their children and the cultural burdens of mastering English and learning to feel comfortable in the United States to devote much attention to the affairs of the Karaite community during the 1960s and 1970s. They continued to pray and observe other rituals in their homes, but organized gatherings of the community were limited to high holidays, marriages, and the like.
The American Jewish community's ignorance of the existence of the Karaites was another factor constraining their collective assertion of identity of the San Francisco area Karaites. Some were concerned that they might be ostracized by the organized American Jewish community. Some joined Reform or Conservative congregations. The Reform and Conservative rites are not as hostile to the Karaites as the Orthodox rabbinate. Nonetheless, Henry and Doris Mourad recall that the rabbi of their Reform congregation said that the Karaites were extinct. They felt negated by this uninformed assertion.
Even Joseph (Joe) and Raymonde (Remy) Pessah, who became the most energetic and capable organizers of the community in the 1980s, felt unable to claim their identity as Karaites when they first arrived in the United States. Joe Pessah (b. 1945) grew up in an Arabic-speaking home in harat al-yahud al-qara’in. He studied engineering at Cairo University. As a boy, he knew Moshe Marzuq and recalls taking pride in Marzuq's status as a doctor when seeing him in the synagogue. After Marzuq was arrested, Pessah thought that he also wanted to be a spy. When Marzuq and Azar were executed, Pessah thought only of Marzuq, not of Azar. Pessah's identification with Marzuq seems to have been primarily personal rather than ideological. Marzuq was someone he knew—a Karaite who had done well and become prominent. Pessah recognized that the Karaites belonged to a broader Jewish community and fondly remembered the good relations between the Karaites and the Rabbanites in Egypt, but he believed that the Karaites had something special because they treated their children “like jewels.” He considered that the Karaites of Egypt had a religious attachment to Jerusalem and believed that going to live in Israel would hasten the coming of the messiah. But this was not a commitment requiring secular political action.
Joe Pessah was among the Jewish men detained in prison camps during and after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. He had already met and become engaged to Raymonde Gazzar, a chemistry major at the American University in Cairo. They were married in an Egyptian jail while Joe was still interned on May 31, 1970. Less than a month later, on June 21, 1970, Joe was released. Before the end of the year, Joe and Remy Pessah immigrated to the United States with the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Two months after arriving in the San Francisco area, they were remarried in a Jewish ceremony performed by Rabbi Herbert Morris of Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, a Conservative-Reform synagogue. A front page story including a picture of the happy couple in the weekly newspaper of the San Francisco Jewish community celebrated their marriage as a symbol of Jewish perseverance and the heroic struggle of Israel against Arab aggression. However, the article did not mention that they were Karaites and members of a community with several hundred adherents in the Bay Area, some of whom presumably attended the wedding. The Pessahs did not inform Rabbi Morris that they were Karaites because they felt he would not understand who they were. Only after Joe Pessah became successfully established in his own business as a computer consultant did he begin to devote substantial time and energy to organizing the community.
Organizing the Karaite Jews of America
During the 1960s and 1970s, the cohesion of the San Francisco area Karaite community was maintained by sporadic observance of religious rituals, regular social contact, and the collective memories of Egypt shared by the older generations. Jacques Mangubi, the former president of the Karaite community in Cairo, organized a Karaite association in Chicago in the mid-1970s. He died in 1977 and others could not sustain his initiative. In San Francisco, at the initiative of Jacob Masliah and Elie Nounou, some twenty-five members of the community met in private homes to conduct high holiday services. In addition, several families gathered regularly on Saturday nights to socialize and play poker. Doris Mourad recalled the ambience of this scene with insightful irony, noting that while the adults played cards, the teenagers, who were less interested in the forms of sociability and other cultural practices their parents brought with them from Cairo, cruised around San Francisco learning how to become Americans.
Many of the first-generation children succeeded in assimilating American culture and even married non-Jews. Several of Joe Pessah's siblings, for example, married Christians. The prospect of disappearance through gradual assimilation encouraged urgent and self-conscious reflection about action to preserve the Karaite community and its complex identity. The task was especially difficult because many of the middle-class Karaites who came to the United States had not been strictly religiously observant in Egypt and did not have a deep knowledge of the religious tradition of the community. Jacob Masliah and Joe Pessah were exceptional in this respect. Moreover, in all of the United States, there was no ordained Karaite rabbi to provide traditionally sanctioned leadership and guidance.
By the 1980s, the San Francisco Bay Area Karaites were established well enough to consider reorganizing their communal affairs. The community collected $112,000 to finance its activities between 1983 and 1985. Jehoash Hirshberg's 1986 survey of ninety-three community members revealed that half of the respondents were then willing to devote time to community activities. When the Bay Area Karaites began to discuss what kind of institutions would best preserve their community and its identity, two opposing views surfaced. More pious and observant families, like the Pessahs and the Masliahs, favored establishing a traditional synagogue similar to those the community had maintained in Cairo. More assimilated and Americanized families, like the Mourads, favored an educational center that would preserve and transmit the historical heritage of Karaite culture but would not obstruct the Karaites' integration into the broader American Jewish community.
The proponents of establishing a religious center began to organize and in 1982 elected Jacob Masliah as president of their association. In May 1983, Fred Lichaa (b. 1947), who arrived in the United States in 1968 and subsequently established himself as a computer programmer, arranged for the Karaite community to hold once-a-month Sabbath prayers at Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation in Foster City on the San Francisco Peninsula, where his family resided. On other Sabbaths, prayers were held in individual homes. This initiative provided a focal point for members of the community who identified themselves as Karaites primarily on the basis of religious commitment.
In July 1983, the Karaite Jews of America (KJA) was formally established as a nonprofit organization. The first board of directors was composed of: Jacob Masliah, president; Moussa El Kodsi, vice-president; Maurice Pessah, secretary; and Elie ‘Ovadia, treasurer. Joe Pessah has served continually as the acting rabbi of the congregation. Since then, the activists of the community have energetically expanded their activities and programs.
In 1984, Joe and Remy Pessah began to publish the KJA Bulletin. It appears at Rosh ha-Shanah and Passover and contains news of the Karaite community, commemorations of births, deaths, weddings, high school and university graduations, and bar/bat mitzvahs, and articles about Karaite history, beliefs, and practice. The bulletin proudly reproduces the rare articles about their community in the mainstream Jewish press and respectfully but firmly explains the differences between Karaite and Rabbanite beliefs and practices while consistently upholding the Jewish identity of the Karaites. The Pessahs also maintain a computerized mailing list of all the Karaites in the United States, with some additional families in Canada, Europe, and Israel.
Every summer the Pessahs organize a Karaite summer camp at Lake Tahoe, California. Two-week sessions are held for seven- to eleven-year-olds, twelve- to fifteen-year-olds, sixteen- to twenty-one-year-olds, and those over twenty-one. The camp provides an opportunity to gather together Karaites from all over the United States. Educational programs for the children are designed to teach them their religious and cultural heritage and strengthen their feelings of connection to the community.
For young adults, the summer camps are an opportunity to meet potential marriage partners so that they will not be forced to marry outside the community. This is especially important because the Karaites do not accept converts. The rate of Karaite intermarriage in the United States is very high, so some members of the community advocate modifying the ban on conversion. Others adopt a wait-and-see attitude until they can have a sense of the level of knowledge and commitment of the children of Karaite-Rabbanite mixed marriages.
Another endeavor contributing to maintaining the communal cohesiveness of the Karaites begun in 1993 is the construction of a Karaite family tree undertaken by David Elichaa of Imperial Beach, California. In Cairo, all the Karaite families were related. This project is intended to enhance community cohesion by documenting the family connections.
The KJA also participated in subsidizing the publication of Mourad El-Kodsi's The Karaite Jews of Egypt, 1882–1986, the most easily accessible modern history of the Karaites of Egypt in English. It serves as a semiofficial text, though some members of the community have reservations about it. The volume is rich with photographs, facsimiles of the community's newspapers and other documents and memorabilia, mostly in Arabic, as well as extracts of prayers in Hebrew with English commentaries.
The decision to document and transmit the Karaite heritage poses a pressing question: What is essential? Many of the Karaites' practices in Cairo cannot be reproduced in the San Francisco area because the community is geographically far more dispersed. Moreover, American-born children already have absorbed some ideas about what it means to be Jewish from their Rabbanite Jewish friends. Therefore, Karaite leaders have had to make conscious decisions about what can and must be preserved and what accommodations can be made to their style of life in the United States and to American Jewish culture.
The San Francisco and Daly City Synagogues
By 1991, the KJA was institutionally stable and sufficiently solvent to purchase a house in San Francisco's Sunset district to serve as a synagogue and community center. Joe Pessah led services there on Saturdays and festivals. Prayers were not held on Friday evenings because many congregants had to drive long distances to reach the synagogue. Travelling times on Friday evenings were unpredictable due to the start of the weekend rush hour, so it was impossible to gather a substantial number of congregants. In Cairo, those who attended synagogue only once a week would typically come on Friday evening. In San Francisco, Saturday morning services became the primary weekly prayer gathering. The annual Purim party is a particularly important occasion because it is an attractive event for the children of the community. For the children, celebrating Purim is both fulfillment of a religious duty (commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from Haman) and “fun” in secular American terms.
The purchase of a building was an important step forward in crystallizing the Karaite community and regularizing its religious observances and social occasions. But the leaders of the synagogue were dissatisfied with the limitations of the building. The neighbors of the synagogue, many of them Asian Americans, objected to the Karaites' plans to expand their building to allow construction of a social hall. The neighbors justified their opposition on the grounds that this would increase the flow of traffic on weekends and holidays. But some Karaites regarded the neighbors' objections as anti-Semitism.
The Karaite synagogue coped with this situation without resolving it for several years. Then a rare opportunity presented itself when a synagogue in Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco, disbanded and put its building up for sale. In June 1994, the KJA purchased the premises of the former Congregation B'nai Israel; their offer was accepted even though it was not the highest bid because the leaders of Congregation B'nai Israel preferred to maintain the Jewish character of the building. Purchase of the new synagogue building necessitated a vigorous fund-raising campaign. Karaites throughout the United States contributed or loaned over $100,000 to the KJA to finance the transaction, enabling the KJA to sell its San Francisco house and celebrate Rosh ha-Shanah of 5755 (1994) in its new quarters in Daly City.
The formal organization of the Karaite community facilitated its recognition by other American Jewish rites. In 1984, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly resolved that Karaites should be regarded as Jews as long as they did not reject Rabbanite tradition. The Reform rabbinate adopted a similar decision. In fact, there are sharp divergences in certain Karaite and Rabbanite customs, which this formulation avoids addressing. For example, Karaites do not celebrate Hanukah, a particularly prominent festival in American Jewish life, on the grounds that the holiday is not mentioned in the Torah. Its historical origins are in the postbiblical era. The Karaites also reject the calendrical reforms introduced by the rabbis in the ninth century, and their holidays may fall at slightly different times than the Rabbanite festivals. Hence, the decisions of the Reform and Conservative rabbis express a spirit of goodwill toward the Karaites without fully accepting the validity of their tradition. Even this somewhat conditional acceptance has allowed the Karaites to gain gradual recognition as part of the Jewish community of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1995, the Northern California Jewish Bulletin began to include the KJA in its weekly list of Jewish congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The character of Karaite Jewish identity remains religiously, politically, and culturally distinctive. For most American Jews, support for Israel is the most prominent expression of their Jewish identity. Visiting Israel for a summer has become an important rite of passage for Jewish teenagers of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Karaites certainly support the state of Israel. They visit and maintain close ties with their relatives and the official leadership of the Karaite communities there. But the core of their identity as Jews is their religious commitment and their cultural heritage. Their Jewishness is not dependent on their political relationship with Israel, certainly not with the leaders of the state. Few American Jews except the ultraorthodox are willing or able to preserve their identity in the same terms.
Jehoash Hirshberg has explained the central role of liturgy and paraliturgical songs in maintaining the continuity of Karaite tradition in the San Francisco Bay Area Karaite community since its buildings, institutions, and books were all left behind in Egypt. Joe Pessah is primarily responsible for liturgical matters. He consciously strives to preserve the purity of the Karaite liturgy and other customs from outside influences because the Karaite tradition in the United States is a young and fragile transplant liable to be destroyed by the excessive integration of Rabbanite or other exogenous practices. Pessah makes a clear distinction between traditional Karaite tunes and Egyptian folk melodies, which the Karaites of Israel appear to have freely integrated into their paraliturgical songs. Nonetheless, Pessah and other community members encourage their children to listen to commercial recordings of Egyptian music so that American-born Karaites will be familiar with their cultural roots and be exposed to an alternative to contemporary Western music and what they regard as its associated negative influences. Joe and Remy Pessah also maintain close contact with Egypt through regular reading of popular Egyptian magazines like Ruz al-Yusuf and Uktubir, which they shared with me when I visited their home.
Such continuing attachments to Arabo-Egyptian culture are common among members of the community who grew up in Egypt. Jacob Masliah fondly recalled that his geometry teacher was the brother of renowned novelist Naguib Mahfouz and that the Mahfouz family lived near his childhood home in ‘Abbasiyya. An older member of the community advised me that if I wished to improve my Arabic pronunciation, he would be glad to lend me his set of audiotapes of Qur’an chanting. Just as Muslims do, he considered the language of the Qur’an to be an ideal form of Arabic. He recalled that at school he had been the best student in his class in Arabic grammar and poetry, and he was proud that when he visited Muslim Egyptians, they were surprised by his retention of excellent Arabic despite having left Egypt thirty-six years ago. He brought to the synagogue a large pile of current Arabic dailies (al-Ahram, al-Hayat, al-Sharq al-Awsat, and al-Watan), whose contents he shared with other members of the congregation during the meal after the services. As I was preparing to leave the synagogue, he passed them on to me to help keep my knowledge of Egypt current.
The organization of a synagogue and related projects gave the San Francisco Bay Area Karaite community a firm institutional structure that it had lacked during the first twenty years of the Karaite presence in the United States. The lapse of organized communal religious life for a generation and the rapid assimilation and Americanization of younger members of the community ensured that despite efforts to maintain and reproduce the historical practices of the community in Cairo, the new synagogue would incorporate substantial novel elements into its services. The ritual core of the synagogue service in San Francisco maintains continuity with the Cairo tradition. The traditional prayer book is used, and prayers are recited in Hebrew with only an occasional informal English commentary. No significant liturgical innovations were introduced, and Joe Pessah endeavored to maintain a unified singing style.
About thirty to forty people participated in regular weekly Saturday morning services in San Francisco when I attended periodically from 1991 to 1993. As in the Rabbanite tradition, the core of the service is the reading of the weekly Torah portion. Because no one in the community could chant the weekly portion reading from an unvoweled handwritten Torah scroll, Joe Pessah and others read from a voweled printed volume. Great attention was lavished on correct pronunciation and cantilation of the text.
The Karaite pronunciation of Hebrew is distinctive, more antique than modern Hebrew, and closer to the sound of Arabic. Karaites continue to pronounce the velarized s for the tzadik, the semiguttural h for het, and the j for a dotted gimel. Because the Karaites do not operate their own religious school, children who have studied Hebrew in the United States have learned the standard modern Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew at religious schools of various Reform or Conservative congregations. Knowledgeable and concerned parents and elders have tried to rectify the children's Hebrew pronunciation. But many children become confused during prayers in the synagogue. It is considered sinful to make an uncorrected error while publicly reading from the Torah, and some senior members of the congregation extend their concern over correct pronunciation to the recitation of prayers. Although I tried to use the Karaite pronunciation of Hebrew when attending the San Francisco synagogue, my pronunciation was sometimes corrected and even preempted lest I make a predictable error.
In Cairo, most women did not study Hebrew, receive formal religious training, or attend synagogue regularly. When women did attend, the separation of men and women in the synagogue was observed. In San Francisco, some women continued to refrain from regular synagogue attendance. Even though her husband was one of the most active members of the community, Nelly Masliah did not attend Sabbath services unless there was a special occasion like a bar mitzvah.
The San Francisco synagogue gestured in the direction of traditional gender separation, although the physical structure of the building imposed a degree of proximity that would have been unacceptable in Cairo. The former living room of the home served as the main prayer hall. A sign at the entry to the living room announced, “This is a kosher place for prayer. Women enter through the kitchen.” Observing this instruction allowed women to assume their places in the dining room of the house, directly behind the living room and not physically separated from it, without entering the living room. Nearly half those who attended services were women, some of whom recited their prayers in loud and energetic voices, a marked departure from the Cairo custom.
At the conclusion of the reading of the weekly Torah portion, there was a break in the service. Every congregant then rose and shook the hand of everyone else present and conveyed the traditional greeting, shabat shalom (a peaceful Sabbath). Individuals who had entered the synagogue at different times and did not have an opportunity to speak before prayers briefly exchanged social news. During this time, men and women spoke to each other, shook each other's hands, and crossed into previously gender-segregated spaces. After the greetings were completed, men and women withdrew to their segregated spaces, and the service resumed. The positive value of strengthening the bonds of the community by the greeting ritual was apparently judged to supersede the importance of strictly maintaining the traditional gender segregation of space in the synagogue.
After services, everyone went to the basement of the house and shared a large meal featuring traditional Egyptian cuisine. There were often comments about the excellence of particular dishes or the fact that only certain individuals remembered how to make a special dish properly. This is not necessarily an indication that people actually forgot what they once knew. Even in Egypt, not every woman was equally proficient in the kitchen, although the tone of voice with which such matters were discussed suggested the opposite. This feature of Karaite social life differs little from Rabbanite Jewish customs. Comparing culinary skill in preparing traditional dishes is a prominent component of community chitchat at nearly any Jewish social gathering where food is served. Conversations during the meal were held in Arabic, French, and English.
None of the children and teenagers speaks any Arabic, though several understand some of the spoken language. Some of the teenagers are highly Americanized. It is unclear whether enough of them have the knowledge and commitment to resist assimilationist pressures and maintain the distinctiveness of the Karaite tradition once the generation that remembers the life and customs of the community in Egypt departs.
On several occasions when I attended the synagogue, I used the meal and social time after prayers to make arrangements to meet and interview people in their homes. Writing is prohibited on the Sabbath, but I would always bring a pen and paper. I knew that I would be able to remember names, addresses, and dates for only a limited time. So I planned to write down my appointments and any other interesting information in my car after leaving the synagogue and before driving home. Because I did not want to take out a pen and paper in the synagogue building, I was embarrassed when the most devout leading members of the congregation asked me if I would like them to write down for me their addresses and directions to their homes. Although I am not religiously observant, I did not want to ask people to violate their religious beliefs on my behalf.
Joe Pessah explained to me that in the United States certain accommodations of this sort were necessary in order to preserve the community. In Cairo, everyone walked to the synagogue because riding in a vehicle is prohibited on the Sabbath. But some people drove as many as fifty miles to attend Sabbath services in San Francisco. He thought that it was much better to encourage such people to drive and attend synagogue because it was obviously impossible for them to do so if they did not drive.
Other ritual innovations practiced by the San Francisco Bay Area Karaites include the institution of bat mitzvah ceremonies. Joe Pessah's mother, Sarina Pessah, did learn Hebrew in Cairo but did not have a bat mitzvah because the community did not observe this rite of passage. She commemorated the opening of the new synagogue in Daly City and her seventieth birthday by celebrating her bat mitzvah.
Some leading members of the community now celebrate Hanukah in their homes. “I never knew about Hanukah until we came here,” said Fred Lichaa. “It was too much to compete with Hanukah and Christmas. It was easier to say [to the children], ‘You'll get your gift at Hanukah.’” 
The San Francisco Karaite community and its leaders are guided by an attitude of flexible pragmatism. Their supreme value is preserving the existence of the community, and they are prepared to compromise strict observance of rituals in order to promote this objective. Thus, the San Francisco community observes what might be regarded as “reform Karaism.” No one has attempted to articulate the legitimacy of this practice in the same way that the Rabbanite Reform and Conservative rites have justified their departures from Orthodoxy. The Karaite community of San Francisco can live with this contradiction because, as in all Middle Eastern Jewish communities, membership is defined by acceptance of the authority of the acknowledged leadership and the belief that ethnoreligious identity is ascriptive and permanent. Piety and precision of observance are desirable, but not necessary for membership in the community. Some Karaite leaders aspire to preserve the traditions and customs of the community as they remember them being practiced in Cairo; others are aware that some changes are inevitable. The social adaptations necessary to maintain a community in the United States make it unlikely that the practices of the Cairo community will ever be fully reproduced, even if the Karaites succeed in passing their traditions on to the second American-born generation.
On the Perils of Ethnography
When I began to study the Karaite community of the San Francisco Bay Area systematically, they welcomed my interest because the personal relationships I had established led them to trust that I would represent the community sympathetically. And I had every intention of doing so. I understood that my interpretation of the significance of Karaite practices did not necessarily accord with the self-understanding of most Karaites. This difference did not seem likely to generate antagonism, especially because my attention was focused on the Karaites of San Francisco rather than broad political questions about the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict. But after I met Karaites in Israel and began to learn about the issues affecting their community, some difficulties developed.
Between Passover and Rosh ha-Shanah 1993, the San Francisco community hosted an extended visit by the former Karaite chief rabbi of Israel, Haim Levy. I was in Israel conducting research for this book when he arrived, so I did not meet Rabbi Levy until the latter part of his stay in San Francisco. In Israel, I spent considerable time reading in the library of the World Karaite Center in Ramlah, where I was generously hosted by First Assistant Chief Rabbi Avraham Gabr. Because there was no heat in the library, Rabbi Gabr invited me to use his office as a reading room. This allowed me to observe the regular comings and goings of his daily business, and it allowed him to keep an eye on me.
Rabbi Gabr spoke to those who visited his office in Hebrew or Arabic, whichever was more comfortable for the visitor. I normally spoke Hebrew with Rabbi Gabr and his visitors, but from time to time people would take an interest in who I was, and to test my credentials or amuse themselves, they would speak to me in Arabic. I found conversing in Egyptian Arabic with Jews in the middle of Israel deliciously iconoclastic.
I felt a connection to these Karaites that had something to do with our common identification as Jews as well as the normal human contact we had established as a consequence of my regular visits to Ramlah. In addition, our relationship was sustained by shared knowledge outside the boundaries of normative discourse in Israel: my interest in modern Karaite history, my sympathy for the Karaites as a victimized minority in Israel, a network of common friends and acquaintances, an appreciation for Arabo-Egyptian culture, and fond memories of certain localities in Egypt. The Karaites of Ramlah preserved important elements of their Egyptian culture—language, food, music, religious rituals. Beyond these tangibles, the humane, face-to-face social style, an almost naive trust in the integrity of one's fellow human, an unpressured approach to accomplishing tasks that always allowed for the possibility of human frailty, and a deep preference for the needs of real people over abstract principle situated the World Karaite Center in Ramlah closer to Cairo than to Tel Aviv.
This was the dominant impression in my mind when I returned to the United States and met Rabbi Levy. I had a long discussion with him during which he repeatedly asserted that the Egyptian Karaites were active Zionists and had prepared to emigrate to Israel even before 1948. He insisted that there were no significant differences between the Karaites and Rabbanites, both in Egypt or in Israel, and that the Karaites were not subjected to any significant discrimination in Israel. This was a rather different story from what I had heard from any other Karaites in San Francisco, Ramlah, or Cairo. Rabbi Gabr, for example, though hardly a political radical, resented the Israeli government's unwillingness to recognize the Karaite bet din and felt that “as long as we have no representation in the Knesset, we are treated unjustly (mekupahim).”  Rabbi Levy became hostile to me because he apparently decided that my questions about these matters were motivated by the traditional antagonistic Rabbanite perspective that portrayed the Karaites as Arabizers and adopters of Muslim customs.
Rabbi Levy was one of the first Karaites to arrive in Israel in 1949. He served in the army and attended the Hebrew University. He was therefore far more Israeli in his outlook than most members of his community in Israel and San Francisco. He was a strict proponent of religious orthodoxy and would not profane the Sabbath by writing. But he also advocated a high degree of accommodation to Israeli norms, including a revised vision of the history of the community in Cairo that transposed religious attachment to the Holy Land into political Zionism. Rabbi Levy was removed from his post as Karaite chief rabbi of Israel because some leading members of the community felt that his policies diluted the community's distinctive identity and traditions. His visit to San Francisco took place after his deposition and may have been an aspect of his strategy to recoup his standing in Israel.
Rabbi Levy's clash with me was based on his correct perception that I did not see his community as he did. He presumed that I was motivated by anti-Karaite Rabbinate prejudices and the standard Zionist view that immigrating to Israel was “good” and remaining in Egypt was “bad.” At first, I was extremely distressed that Rabbi Levy was suspicious of me and my motives. In retrospect, I have come to think that it was his right to suspect me. My presence and my research agenda accentuated the Egyptian Arab face of the Karaites I met. If I had been a fluent speaker of French and had spoken no Arabic, if I had been interested in Karaite religious doctrine and its historical development, if I had not spent considerable time in Egypt myself, a rather different interpretation of the meaning of Karaite experience and identity would have been available to me. Rabbi Levy regarded the representation of the Karaites implicit in the questions I put to him as a threat to the well-being of his community in Israel because he understood that I was interested in the cultural differences between Karaites and Rabbanites. In terms of the prevailing norms during the period of his socialization in Israel, when even the assertion of Middle Eastern Rabbanite identity was unacceptable, he was correct.
However, the majority of the Karaites I have met were not embarrassed or reluctant to share the Egyptian Arab face of their identity with me. I am convinced that this component of their identity is as “real” as the face that they may present to the official Jewish communities in the United States and Israel. Because the norms of Jewish life in Israel and the United States assign a negative value to it, some Karaites unself-consciously and reflexively mask this face. Rabbi Levy is one of the few who consciously deny it. Others display it proudly to those who can appreciate it and affectionately recall many aspects of their life in Egypt even as they recognize that continuing that life was impossible and that it is unlikely that any Egyptian Jewish community will be reestablished in the foreseeable future.
One Sabbath I attended services in San Francisco when Rabbi Levy delivered a sermon—in Arabic, the only common language between him and the majority of the congregation because they do not understand modern spoken Hebrew and he is not fluent in English. During the sermon, he paused and asked me to translate a phrase for him from Hebrew to Arabic. I was flustered because I did not expect such a request, which blurred the boundary between my status as an ethnographic observer and my identity as a Jew participating in a religious service. Ultimately, I was pleased and flattered to be asked to serve as translator. In the course of writing this book, I have come to accept the inevitable perils of those who live on cultural boundary lines and serve as translators.
1. Joel Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948–1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 185–88. [BACK]
2. For example, Gudrun Krämer, The Jews in Modern Egypt, 1914–1952 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1989) and Michael M. Laskier, The Jews of Egypt, 1920–1970: In the Midst of Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and the Middle East Conflict (New York: New York University Press, 1992) mention the Karaites only briefly. [BACK]
3. Meron Benvenisti, City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 170. [BACK]
4. Rabbi Avraham Gabr, interview, Ramlah, Jan. 11, 1993. [BACK]
5. Mourad El-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt, 1882–1986 (Lyons, NY: Wilprint, 1987), p. 296. [BACK]
6. Maurice Shammas, interview, Jerusalem, May 5, 1994. [BACK]
7. Yosefa Nunu, interview, Ramlah, Mar. 7, 1993. [BACK]
8. The lower figure is that of Nathan Schur, History of the Karaites (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1992). p. 142. The higher figure is the one usually given by Karaite spokespersons. Schur's work is informed by traditional anti-Karaite biases and is not particularly perceptive or reliable. [BACK]
9. Sumi Colligan, “Religion, Nationalism and Ethnicity in Israel: The Case of the Karaite Jews” (Ph.D. thesis, Princeton University, 1980), pp. 296–97. [BACK]
10. Shlomo Barad, “ha-Pe‘ilut ha-tzionit be-mitzrayim, 1917–1952,” Shorashim ba-mizrah 2 (1989):118. Barad offers no documentary evidence in this article to support this rather harsh allegation, so I went to interview him at his home in Kibutz Karmia on Jan. 3, 1996, to hear how he had come to this conclusion. Barad was a member of ha-Shomer ha-Tza‘ir in Tunisia, and his gar‘in was training at the movement's farm at La Roche, France. The Tunisians were to have completed their training and emigrated to Israel, but they could not leave La Roche until a new group of trainees arrived to replace them. Their departure was delayed because of the late arrival of members of the Egyptian gar‘in from Egypt headed toward ‘Ein-Shemer. The Egyptians told him that they had delayed their departure and halted all immigration from Egypt as a protest against the Jewish Agency's policy of excluding Karaites from immigration to Israel. They resumed recruitment and processing of immigrants and they themselves departed only after receiving assurances that this policy had been reversed. [BACK]
11. Colligan, “Religion, Nationalism and Ethnicity in Israel,” pp. 234–35; Y. Bitsur, Ma‘ariv, June 30, 1961. [BACK]
12. El-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt, p. 99–100. [BACK]
13. Ibid., pp. 62, 296. [BACK]
14. Joe Pessah, interview, Mountain View, California, June 12, 1992. [BACK]
15. Jehoash Hirshberg, “Musikah ke-gorem le-likud ha-kehilah ha-kara’it be-san frantzisko,” Pe‘amim 32 (1988):73. [BACK]
16. Information about the Masliah family is based on my long friendship with Yusuf Darwish and many meetings with Jacob and Nelly Masliah, especially formal interviews in their home in San Francisco on May 8 and 16, 1992 (the second with the participation of their daughter, Nadia Hartmann). [BACK]
17. Number of professionals as estimated by Maurice Shammas, interview, Jerusalem, May 5, 1994. [BACK]
18. Nadia Hartmann, interview, San Francisco, May 16, 1992. [BACK]
19. Henry and Doris Mourad, interview, Los Altos Hills, California, June 10, 1992. [BACK]
20. Ibid. [BACK]
21. Joe and Remy Pessah, interview, Mountain View, June 12, 1992. [BACK]
22. “Egyptian Love Story Leads to Altar Here,” San Francisco Jewish Bulletin, Jan. 29, 1971, p. 1. [BACK]
23. Henry and Doris Mourad, interview. [BACK]
24. Hirshberg, “Musikah ke-gorem le-likud ha-kehilah ha-kara’it be-san frantzisko,” p. 70. [BACK]
25. Information in this section is based on articles in various issues of the KJA Bulletin, confirmed and elaborated by discussion with members of the community. [BACK]
26. Northern California Jewish Bulletin, Sept. 9, 1994. [BACK]
27. Jehoash Hirshberg, “Musical Tradition as a Cohesive Force in a Community in Transition: The Case of the Karaites,” Asian Music 17 (no. 2, 1986):46–68; Hirshberg, “Musikah ke-gorem le-likud ha-kehilah ha-kara’it be-san frantzisko,” pp. 66–81. [BACK]
28. Conversation with Elie Nounou, Congregation B'nai Israel, Daly City, California, Feb. 16, 1996. [BACK]
29. Elaine Laporte, “Karaite Grandmother Celebrates Bat Mitzvah-at 70,” Northern California Jewish Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1994, reprinted in KJA Bulletin, Mar. 1995, pp. 15–16. [BACK]
30. Deborah Kalb, The Jewish Monthly, Mar. 1992, reprinted in KJA Bulletin, Sept. 1992, p. 6. [BACK]
31. Rabbi Haim Levy, interview, San Francisco, July 13, 1993. [BACK]
32. Rabbi Avraham Gabr, interview. [BACK]
33. Sumi Colligan, personal communication, September 14, 1994. [BACK]