Date & Place: Monday 6 November, Wolfson Room, IHR, London
Speakers: Julie Kalman (Monash University)
Chair: Ludivine Broch (Westminster)
It started with a story. A story involving two Jewish families – the Bacris and the Busnachs – a Dey, a debt and a flyswatter. And then the invasion of Algeria by the French.
Julie Kalman is an expert in anti-semitism in 19th century France. In her latest project, she focusses on two Jewish families living in Algeria in the late-18th and early-19th century, reknowned for their alleged role in France’s invasion of Algeria. But beyond this legendary story, she is interested in the complicated links between the French, Jewish communities and North Africa. By exploring these families, their writings and the diplomatic correspondence of the time, Kalman is unravelling a story of perceptions. Indeed, the Bacri and Busnach families were seen as key players in Algers for anyone interested in trade, and through them the French maintained a tradition of using Jews to help them navigate an Orient which they struggled to understand. But the Bacris and Busnachs were also seen as playing the field – especially playing off the British and French against one another. For this, they were deemed deeply suspicious by certain key diplomats.
Yet their real commercial power and political influence is questionable. But this, as Kalman explains, does not really matter. What is important is how these families were perceived. The French magnified the power of these two Jewish families, and in doing so were expressing specific attitudes towards Jews. Jews, they believed, should behave in certain ways, and should have great respect for a nation which had emancipated them. What starts with a story of a flyswatter thus becomes a story of perceptions of the ‘other’, of the Jew and the Orient. Listen to the recording to let your imagination unroll as Kalman transports us back over two centuries.