Preferred Citation: Beinin, Joel. The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

The Communist Emigres in France

6. The Communist Emigres in France

In the late 1930s, Jews participated prominently in the revival and reformation of the Egyptian communist movement.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] Nonetheless, Israel insisted, “We were foreigners. He [Curiel] couldn't accept that.” [5]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.” [8] 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?[9]

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.[10] 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.” [11] More recently, Sid-Ahmed noted with sadness, “There was an element of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian communist movement.” [12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

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.” [15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.” [18]

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.[19]

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,” [20] 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.[21] 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.” [22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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.” [26]

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.[27] 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.” [28]

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.

Political Nomadism

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.[29] 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.” [30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.” [33]

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.[34] 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.” [35] 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.[36]

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.[37] Suffert's sources in the French intelligence community believed Curiel was “in constant contact with the KGB.” [38] 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.[39] 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.” [40]

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.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43]

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.[44]

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.” [45] 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.[46] 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.[47]

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.[48]

The proposed Goldmann-Nasser meeting and Israel's role in blocking it were widely reported in the international press.[49] 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.[50]

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.[51] 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.[52] 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.[53]

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.[54] 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.[55]

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.[56] 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.[57] 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.[58]

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.[59] 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.[60] 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.[61] 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).[62] 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,[63] 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.” [64] 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.[65] 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.[66]

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.[67] 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.[68] 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.[69] 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.[70] 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.[71]

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.” [72] 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.” [73]

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.” [74] 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.[75]


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).

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.

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.

4. Marcel Israel, letter to Gilles Perrault (n.d., typescript response to Un homme à part).

5. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 195; English edition, p. 146.

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.

7. Hilmi Yasin, interview, Cairo, May 25, 1986.

8. Fu’ad Mursi, interview, Cairo, May 19, 1986.

9. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 199; English edition, p. 149.

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.

11. Quoted in Selma Botman, The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939–70 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988), pp. 94–95

12. Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, interview, Cairo, June 22, 1992.

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.

14. Curiel, Pages autobiographiques, p. 57.

15. Arrest warrant quoted in Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 213.

16. Ibid., p. 220.

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.

18. Ibid., p. 215.

19. Ibid., p. 263; English edition, p. 193.

20. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 508.

21. Jonathan Boyarin, Polish Jews in Paris: The Ethnography of Memory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).

22. Bulletin d'études et d’information sur l'Egypte et le Soudan no. 17 (Aug. 1952), Henri Curiel Papers.

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.

24. For details, see Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? pp. 153–59.

25. Ahmad Hamrush, interview, Cairo, Jan. 14, 1996. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 271, relates the same story with somewhat different details.

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.

27. “Khitab ila al-maktab al-siyasi,” Jan. 12, 1958, Henri Curiel Papers.

28. Edward W. Said, “The Mind of Winter: Reflections on Life in Exile” Harper's, Sept. 1984, p. 51.

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.

30. Quoted in Perrault, Un homme á part, p. 287.

31. Didar Rossano-Fawzy, interview, Paris, June 22, 1994.

32. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 299.

33. Ibid., p. 351.

34. Ibid., pp. 352–53.

35. Ibid., p. 370.

36. Ibid., p. 365.

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.

38. Suffert, “Le patron des résaux d'aide aux terroristes,” p. 57.

39. Quoted in Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 351.

40. Said, “The Mind of Winter,” p. 53.

41. Raymond Aghion, interview, Paris, May 11, 1994.

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.

43. Raymond Aghion, interview, Paris, May 23, 1994. Aghion also showed me copies of the correspondence between himself and Pierre Mendès-France.

44. Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 533–35; Uri Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy (Westport, Conn.: Lawrence & Hill, 1986), p. 30.

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).

46. This argument is developed in detail in Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There?

47. Hamrush, interview. Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 535–36, presents a slightly different version of these events.

48. Hamrush, interview.

49. For example, New York Times, Apr. 6, 8, 1970.

50. Eric Rouleau, interview, Paris, May 15, 1994.

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).

52. Hamrush, interview.

53. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 552.

54. Hamrush, interview.

55. Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 537–38; Curiel, ‘Al mizbeah ha-shalom, p. 15.

56. Curiel, “Pour un ‘second Bologne,’” in Pour une paix juste au proche-orient, pp. 152–55.

57. Mahmoud Hussein, letter to the editor of Nouvel Observateur, Oct. 22, 1973.

58. Saul Friedländer and Mahmoud Hussein, moderated by Jean Lacouture, Arabs & Israelis: A Dialogue (New York: Holmes & Meir, 1975).

59. See Fathi, Hinri kuriyal didda al-haraka al-shuyu‘iyya al-‘arabiyya.

60. Mahmoud Hussein, The Class Struggle in Egypt, 1945–1970 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973).

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).

62. Ilan Halevi, interview, Paris, June 24, 1993. Benny Lévy is today the head of a yeshiva (religious seminary) in Strasbourg.

63. The Times, Nov. 16, Dec. 17, 1973.

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.

65. Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy, pp. 53–55.

66. Ibid., pp. 40–55, 71–73, 92–96, 119.

67. Ibid., p. 119–21; Perrault, Un homme à part, pp. 542–44.

68. Gresh, The PLO: The Struggle Within, p. 197.

69. Ma‘ariv, Dec. 5, 1976.

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.

71. Perrault, Un homme à part, p. 568; Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy, pp. 153–56.

72. Avnery, My Friend, the Enemy. p. 160.

73. Quoted in Gresh, The PLO: The Struggle Within, p. 199.

74. Ibid.

75. Didar Rossano-Fawzy, interview.

The Communist Emigres in France

Preferred Citation: Beinin, Joel. The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.