By the time of the Young Turk revolution of 1908, the Alliance had reached, from the institutional standpoint, the height of its power in Turkey. Not only did it exercise a quasi-monopoly over the field of Jewish education through its school network and its effective control of the major Talmudei Torah, but it had created a series of ancillary organizations to supplement the work of its educational establishments.
In Edirne, the school director organized in 1890 a reading club, the Cercle Israelite, composed of the graduates of the Alliance institutions in Edirne. The club occupied itself with philanthropic activities in the town, collected money for the poor students of the schools, and sponsored theatrical produc- tions in French and in Judeo-Spanish. By 1898, it had become the most important Jewish association in Edirne, subscribed to French, Hebrew, and Judeo-Spanish newspapers, and had built a lending library of 1000 volumes. An Alliance alumni association came into being in Izmir in 1895 which created its own Cercle Israelite in 1897 and was also active in the field of philanthropy. The Central Committee saw in these organizations effective tools for bringing together the graduates of its schools and for continuing to expand its sphere of influence over the generations that had passed through its institutions. In 1898 it sent a circular to all the directors, encouraging them to create such bodies in the towns where they had not yet come into existence.
At the turn of the century, the directors in Edirne and Izmir also established mutual aid societies for the Jewish artisans of the two cities. The members contributed each week to a fund which was then used to help them at times of unemployment and illness. By 1903, one-third of the Jewish artisanate in Edirne was enrolled, and the society ran a cooperative grocery store and engaged the services of a permanent doctor. Weekly lectures by the school director on topics ranging from the virtues of manual labor to the heroes of Jewish history complemented the practical side of the organization with the moral one deemed so indispensable. The Izmir society, put under the aegis of the alumni association, led a more ephemeral existence, but nevertheless did manage to organize some artisans, to help them find jobs, and to provide assistance at times of distress.
Alliance-sponsored reading clubs, alumni associations, and mutual-aid fraternities provided new associative frameworks for the young generation. Coexisting side by side with many traditional philanthropic organizations such as the ones for the clothing of the poor, for the visiting of the sick, for the supporting of the Talmudei Torah, and often replacing them, the Alliance societies based on Western models contributed to the Westernization and secularization of the associative life of Turkish Jewry.
In many towns, the schools constituted centers from which radiated the action of the Alliance to influence several aspects of Jewish communal existence. Izmir provides a good case in point. In the twenty-five years since the coming of the organization to the city in 1873, it had created one school for boys, one school for girls, one kindergarten, one coeducational school in the suburb of Karatas, two "popular" schools resulting from the merger of several small meldars, two apprenticeship programs, one dressmaking workshop for girls, one alumni association with 300 members, one reading club, and one mutual aid society for artisans. One of the teachers sent by the school directed the Talmud Torah. The Alliance schools were deeply involved in philanthropic activities. They provided thirty to forty thousand free meals a year to the poor students and were directly involved with the administration of the Rothschild hospital that had been in existence since the 1850s.
A similar expansion of the Alliance's influence characterized the evolution of its work as a whole in Turkey. The society arrogated to itself many of the functions which the conflict-ridden, bankrupt and atrophied local communal institutions were no longer fulfilling. It offered an alternative avenue of social action and reform, and its infrastructure came to constitute almost a surrogate Jewish community. By the first decade of the twentieth century, its establishments were ubiquitous in the Turkish Jewish landscape. But, to use terms that have been employed by Michael Graetz in a different context, it was the election of Haim Nahum to the Chief Rabbinate after the Young Turk revolution of 1908 that marked the final transition of the Alliance from the periphery to the center of the ruling elite of Turkish Jewry. The highest echelons of the Turkish rabbinate in the provinces had already entered into a close relationship with the Alliance. The son of Samuel Geron, the Chief Rabbi of Edirne, had been educated in the local Alliance school and was accepted to the ENIO in Paris in 1893 to receive training to become an Alliance teacher. The grandson of Abraham Palacci, the Chief Rabbi of Izmir, had also gone through the same process and had become an Alliance teacher in 1895. In 1913, an Alliance graduate, Rabbi Nissim Danon, became the Chief Rabbi of Izmir.
The rabbinate in Istanbul proved to be less open to the influence of the organization. Closely allied with the Hamidian regime, the Chief Rabbinate had become increasingly inefficient and corrupt. The acting Chief Rabbi, Mosheh Halevi, who occupied the position for thirty-five years without a formal appointment, was under the thumb of a few highly placed Jewish notables who prevented the regular functioning of communal affairs. By the first decade of the twentieth century, this group, called in Judeo-Spanish the banda preta (the black camarilla) by its critics, was increasingly drawing fire from the reformers among the young generation such as Abraham Galante, who attacked it tirelessly in his Judeo-Spanish newspaper, La Vara, published in Cairo. The Alliance steered clear of the Chief Rabbinate, taking great care not to become embroiled in the internecine quarrels of the Istanbul community. But it was well aware that the reform of communal affairs was, in the long run, of great importance for the future of its institutions in Turkey. The consistoire model in France, entrusted with the task of the "regeneration" of French Jewry, was never far from the mind of its leadership. The latter saw the establishment of a rationalized and well-structured communal administration in Turkey run by an enlightened rabbinate and laity as the indispensable complement of its work in the transformation of Turkish Jewry.
By the turn of the century the organization began to plan for the eventuality of the replacement of the acting Chief Rabbi, who was already very old. It carefully groomed its own candidate for the post. Its protege was a young man, Haim Nahum. The Alliance Central Committee in 1892 took under its wing the young Nahum who had received a traditional Jewish education as well as secular instruction in a Turkish Iycee. It brought him to Paris where he studied at the Rabbinical Seminary as well as in various institutions of higher education. Upon graduation, he returned to Turkey in 1897 and was appointed to teach at the newly opened Alliance Rabbinical Seminary in Istanbul and in two other Alliance establishments in the city.
From the tenor of the correspondence between him and Jacques Bigart, then secretary general of the Alliance, it is clear that the organization had earmarked him as a future Chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire. His ascent was steady. In 1899, he was appointed secretary of the administrative council of the Istanbul community, a development which delighted the Alliance.
Nahum's moment of opportunity came with the Young Turk Revolution. Mosheh Halevi, closely associated with the Hamidian regime which had now been overthrown, was forced to resign, and the administrative council of the Jewish community chose Nahum to replace him as the acting Chief Rabbi. A bitter campaign for the election to the Chief Rabbinate followed in which he was pitted against his father-in-law, Abraham Danon (Nahum had married his daughter Sultana, who was an Alliance teacher), who had also announced his candidacy for the post. Some Orthodox congregations in Germany sent letters to Istanbul opposing Nahum's candidacy, accusing him of being too liberal in matters of religion, adding fuel to the polemics that became the hallmark of the Judeo-Spanish press now freed from the stranglehold of Hamidian censorship. Nevertheless, in the end, the years of careful cultivation of the important personalities in influential positions paid off, and Nahum was elected on January 24, 1909 to the Chief Rabbinate of the Ottoman Empire.
The Alliance was caught by surprise by the Young Turk Revolution and its consequences. It had anticipated a much more gradual rise to power for Nahum and was afraid that in the case of a counter-revolution or a return to power of the conservatives in Turkey, he and the institution of the Chief Rabbinate would be put in a very vulnerable position. Consequently, it thought that Abraham Danon, the director of the Rabbinical Seminary, less associated with the revolution, would stand a better chance of survival as Chief Rabbi if reaction set in. But after this initial hesitation, it showed itself overjoyed by the success of Nahum. Congratulating him upon his initial election as the acting Chief Rabbi, Bigart could not help adding that the Central Committee considered his victory also a victory for the Alliance. Nahum's opponents accused him of being too much of an Allianciste, a charge which, as he wrote to Bigart, he considered an honor. Bigart's letter of congratulation written one day after Nahum's final election summarized well the Alliance's attitude toward his triumph:
The election of Nahum inaugurated the rise to power of the Allianciste notables within the community. This secular elite finally had come into its own. The liberal atmosphere brought about by the Young Turk Revolution had led to the eclipse of the more conservative elements within. The small cabal that had run the affairs of the Chief Rabbinate had now been displaced from its position of power and authority.
The conflicts within the community in the years 1858-65 had ended in a stalemate between the reformers and the traditionalists that had paralyzed communal affairs for decades. The conservative Hamidian state had not pushed for a rationalization of the administrative system of the Jewish millet. The 1865 statutes for the community had been ignored, and no Chief Rabbi had been formally appointed. Mosheh Halevi had ruled as acting Chief Rabbi only. In fact, Haim Nahum was to be the first and last Chief Rabbi ever to be appointed formally under the provisions of the 1865 statutes. In the context of the paralysis in communal administrations, most of the reforming impulse of the community had coalesced around the work of the Alliance in Turkey, which had provided nn alternative base of power and influence, albeit under strict and often rigid control from Paris. With the wind of liberalism blowing from the Ottoman state itself, the reformers could now surface and take over the communal administrations. The Alliance could look forward with confidence to the reorganization of the Jewish communal bodies under the leadership of Nahum and the notables and to the effective support for its schools from the institution of the Chief Rabbinate.
The revolution of 1908 led to the legal emancipation of all the non-Muslims of the Empire, removing their last surviving disabilities. After 1909, all non-Muslims were liable to conscription, and the exemption tax (the bedel-i askeriye) was abolished. The tax had been a revamped version of the old poll-tax paid by the non-Muslim communities until the Reform Decree of 1856. Classic legal emancipation, on the Western model, appeared to have arrived in Turkey.
The Young Turk revolution was received with jubilation by the Jewish communities of the Empire," with high expectations about new opportunities for Jews in all areas of public life in Turkey. There emerged a great demand for education in Turkish. The Alliance increased the number of hours of the language taught in its schools since it too had great expectations about the consequences of the revolution for the future of Turkish Jewrvyand took credit for having prepared it for the era of liberty that had arrived:
Now that all barriers that had prevented full emancipation had been removed and despotism overthrown, the work of the Alliance appeared vindicated. Most of the Jewish communities were administered by its graduates. Three of the four Jews in the new Ottoman Chamber of Deputies, Carasso, Faraggi, and Masliah, were graduates of its schools. Furthermore, some Turkish deputies such as Riza Tevfik Bey, a poet and a philosopher, had also studied in Alliance schools. Talat Pasa, one of the most important leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress, had taught Turkish in the Alliance school in Edirne and had been instructed in French by the daughter of the school director there. The organization now had good friends in high places. It had contributed largely to the emergence of Westernized elements within the Jewish community which could participate in the political process of the country. lts task of preparing Eastern Jewry for the benefits of emancipation appeared to have borne fruit. But as it was to rdicover coon the new situation in Turkey also inaugurated the period which saw the emancipation of important sections of Turkish Jewry from its own tutelage.
The Emergence of Zionism in lstanbul
The revolution brought in its wake freedom of the press and the removal of restrictions on political activity. Many currents of opinion that had been muffled by the tight control and censorship of the old regime now rose to the surface. The Jewish community was not immune to this development. An important political ideology to emerge among Turkish Jewry, mostly in the capital (but also in Salonica), was Zionism, which developed into a full-fledged movement and threatened the very existence of the Alliance institutions.
The standard interpretation, fostered by the apologetic writings of Abraham Galante during the first decades of the nationalistic Turkish republic and later taken up by Western historians, has been that Zionism met with no response from Turkish Jewry and remained an exclusively "foreign" import. Although there is truth to the suggestion that the impulse for Zionism came from abroad, developments after 1908 in Istanbul indicate that the degree of local support for the movement was much more significant than hitherto believed. It is impossible to enter into the details of the history of the Turkish Zionism here. Only those aspects of its development which affected the Alliance in Turkey will be analyzed in full.
There is no doubt that Zionism was little known among the Turkish Jewish masses before 1908. News filtered through the Zionist Judeo-Spanish press of Bulgaria, which was available in Turkey. David Fresco, the editor of El Tiempo published in Istanbul, engaged in fierce attacks against Bulgarian Zionists in the columns of his paper in 1898 and 1901. Nevertheless, Zionism became a burning issue in Istanbul only after 1908.
In parallel with Herzl's abortive attempts to negotiate the fate of Ottoman Palestine with the Sultan, major currents within the World Zionist Organization had always believed that Istanbul held the keys to Palestine. However, nothing of substance could be achieved under the Hamidian autocracy. The Revolution of 1908 changed the situation. A Zionist representative, Dr. Victor Jacobson, arrived there in the autumn of that year, ostensibly as the head of the Anglo-Levantine Banking Company, a subsidiary of the Zionist Anglo-Palestine Company. In reality he came to explore contacts with influential personalities in the capital and to further the cause of Zionism through links with the government. Scholarly literature has documented well the relationship between the officials of the Zionist Organization and the Turkish government, and the government's steadfast opposition to the Zionist endeavor in Palestine. It is only recently that attention has been paid to the impact of the activities of the Zionists on the local Jewish population.
Upon arrival, Jacobson immediately launched a campaign to propagate the ideas of Zionism in Istanbul. The Zionists created two newspapers, ha-Mevaser in Hebrew, and Le Jeune Turc (previously Courier d'Orient) in French and succeeded to gain two others to their cause through subsidies, El Judio publishing in Judeo-Spanish, and L'Aurore in French.3Istanbul (and Salonica) became a major center of Zionist activity, the provinces remaining relatively quiescent.
The Ashkenazi community of Istanbul proved ripe for the message of the new movement and gradually increasing numbers of Sephardim, especially the youth, were also won over. Gymnastic clubs such as the Makabi provided an organizational base to win new adherents to the cause. Violent polemics between the Zionist L'Aurore, directed by Lucien Sciuto, a graduate of the Salonica Alliance school, and El Tiempo, directed by David Fresco, a member of the Alliance Regional Committee, became an almost daily occurrence between 1909 and 1911, going as far as Sciuto being taken to court by Fresco for defamation of character in 1911. The Alliance teachers grew increasingly pessimistic, bemoaning the inroads made by Zionism among the masses. In 1911, Isaac Fernandez, the president of the Regional Committee, reported to the Alliance that "90 percent" of the youth had become Zionist. Haim Nahum also became the target of attacks in the press, especially after his resignation from the Makabi club in 1910, of which he had been an honorary member. The resignation was provoked by the increasing attacks of the Zionists against the Alliance.
After 1911, the administrative council (Meclis-i Cismani) of the community came to have increasing numbers of Zionists in its ranks. Through deft electioneering, Zionists managed to gain majorities in the communal councils in 1913 and 1914. Although this does not prove that the majority of Istanbul Jewry had become Zionist, as these were not mass-based elections, it does indicate that the movement, well-organized and well-directed, had become an important force, not limited to a few foreigners but espoused by many Turkish Jews. With its clever utilization of the press and of the numerous clubs that sprang up in the capital, Zionism was a force to be reckoned with in the years between the Young Turk revolution and World War I.
It was inevitable that the Alliance, the very incarnation of the ideology of emancipation with its strong views on the integration of the Jews in the countries they lived in, would become a target for all those who upheld an ideology of Jewish nationalism. The organization, bitterly opposed to Zionism, constituted a major bulwark against the movement in France and in Europe. In return, it was attacked by Herzl and by the official Zionist organ, Die Welt. A conflict in 1911 between the German membership of the Alliance, organized into an umbrella organization called the Deutsche Konferenz-gemeinschaft, and Paris over the reelection of Salomon Reinach to the Alliance Central Committee, provided further ammunition for the Zionist publicists. Reinach, the famous archeologist and colleague of Leven and Bigart, had made several public anti-Zionist comments and had also belittled certain aspects of traditional Judaism in some of his publications. The Zionists did their best to have him defeated. Until then, elections to the Central Committee had been quiet affairs, the list suggested by the Central Committee being accepted by the membership without any opposition. The polemics that surrounded the 1911 elections were so serious that the Alliance mobilized all its efforts by appealing to some of its school directors to propagandize in Reinach's favor. It succeeded in bringing about his reelection. It then changed its statutes, abolishing elections to the Central Committee and instead instituted cooptation of new members by the already existing Committee.
The conflict in the international arena had its counterpart in Istanbul. Until the end of 1909, the leading Zionist newspaper, L'Aurore, refrained from directly attacking the Alliance. However, other Zionists in the Jewish quarters of Istanbul increasingly began to express criticism of the programs of the schools for devoting too many hours to French and too little to Hebrew. The Makabi clubs gained real popularity, reaching a membership of 2000 before World War 1. They propagandized openly against the Alliance. A Zionist society, the Bnei Yisrael, was founded in Haskoy with links with the Makabi, and coordinated attacks on the Alliance school there. Zionists increasingly flirted with the traditionalist rabbinate and used the synagogues as bases to recruit for their cause among the more conservative elements of the population. The administrative council, still Allianciste in 1909, tried to put a stop to this development by forbidding political meetings in the synagogues and by limiting the giving of sermons to the students of the Alliance rabbinical seminary.
However, the real conflict erupted over the creation of an Alliance Alumni Association in Istanbul in 1910. The Regional Committee made an appeal for the foundation of such a society, as Istanbul was the only major city without an Alliance alumni group. In the general assembly of the Alliance graduates which met in March 1910, the Zionists and the anti-Zionists split into two hostile factions. It appears that the Zionists among the graduates came to the meeting well prepared, with a definite program. The conflict was ostensibly over the wording to be used to delimit the aim of the society. The Allianciste faction defined this as "improving the state of Ottoman Jewry by creating a meeting center and by developing among the Jewish youth ties of friendship and solidarity." The Zionists wanted to add the following sentence: "To bring about, every time that events warrant it, a movement of solidarity among the Jewish population with our coreligionists of whichever country where they suffer because of being Jewish (en leur qualite d'israelite)." The maneuver was no doubt a clever, calculated move on the part of the Zionists, as solidarity with those "suffering for being Jewish" was the wording used by the Alliance in its famous manifesto of 1860 and had been included as the second clause of the first article of its statutes. The Alliancistes could not object to it on ideological grounds and had to fight a rearguard action by arguing that this was not the task of an alumni association.
It is clear that the conflict over the definition of the aims was just a smokescreen that hid the real struggle over control of the nascent organization. In the end the Alliancistes seceded and formed the Amicale, which had the support of Paris and of other Alliance alumni associations in the provinces. All attempts at reconciliation between the two groups proved fruitless.
Significantly, the Zionists called their Alliance alumni group the Agadat Cremieux (The Cremieux Union) after the most famous president of the Alliance. One of the Zionists' favorite criticisms of the organization was that it had been originally on the right path while under the leadership of people like Cremieux and Netter, the founder of the agricultural school Mikveh Yisrael in Palestine, working for the "national regeneration" of the Jewish people, but its true aims had been perverted by their successors who had transformed it into a tool of French interests. This was a line of attack which was constantly repeated in the official newspaper of the Zionist Organization, Die Welt, and became the leitmotif of L'Aurore's criticisms of the Alliance.
The Central Committee's rejection of an appeal by the Makabi to be allowed the use of the Alliance Balat school building for its activities, and the Amicale affair, enraged Lucien Sciuto, the editor of L'Aurore. He had already suggested in the columns of his paper that the Alliance had to renew itself, to issue a second appeal, like the famous one of 1864, making Hebrew the language of instruction in its schools. According to him, the Zionists were better interpreters of the true spirit of the Alliance than its current leadership, who had transformed the organization into an "Alliance assimilatrice francaise." The main aim of the Zionists appeared to Hebraize the education dispensed in the Alliance schools and to weaken the position of the organization in all levels of Jewish communal life. For this purpose, Zionist newspapers such as L'Aurore gave wide publicity to the activities of rival organizations like the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden, which had begun to subsidize two Talmudei Torah in Istanbul after 1908 and was supported by the local Ashkenazi community.
David Fresco, the editor of El Tiempo, emerged as the leading anti-Zionist in the Allianciste camp. He used his newspaper to hound the movement in all its manifestations to such an extent that he appeared to the Zionist leadership as the major orchestrator of an Alliance campaign of vilification against them. Fresco collected several of his anti-Zionist articles in El Tiempo into a pamphlet which he published in Judeo-Spanish and French in 1909. The pamphlet, entitled Le Sionisme, summed up the position of the anti-Zionists and represented the views of the Allianciste faction among Istanbul Jewry.
Zionism, according to Fresco, was nothing more than a new form of false messianism, like the Sabbatean movement of the seventeenth century. It ran counter to the liberal and rationalistic impulse in human history to which Judaism had been a major contributor. The emancipation of the Jews and their assimilation into the surrounding populations had inaugurated a new era in human history which would see the final disappearance of antisemitism, a remnant of the Middle Ages. It was incumbent upon Turkish Jews to move in step with the new era of freedom ushered in by the revolution of 1908, adopt Turkish as their mother tongue, and work for the good of the Ottoman motherland.
This classic liberal anti-Zionist stance, informed by the ideology of emancipation, acquired a particular urgency in the Turkish context by conjuring up the spectre of treason that Zionism was supposed to imply. What was particularly problematic about Zionism in Turkey was the fact that unlike anywhere else, it concerned an area, Palestine, that was an integral part of the state in which the movement itself was operating. Fresco was very conscious of this fact and had no doubts about the insincerity of the recent Zionist declarations repudiating all interest in an independent Jewish state in Palestine and demanding only a Jewish homeland under the rule of the Sultan. For him, the aim of Zionism remained political independence for a Jewish Palestine. And Palestine was not some distant land but a part of the Ottoman Empire. Zionism, therefore, could easily raise questions in the minds of the government about the loyalty of its Jewish subjects:
Fresco's writings drew a response from no less a person than Nahum Sokolow who, in a pamphlet translated and published in Judeo-Spanish in 1910, defended Zionism by showing that it was not at all unpatriotic and questioned the sanity of Fresco. The press war became particularly bitter after Fresco published a violent attack on the Makabi in El Tiempo, which was followed by Haim Nahum's resignation from his honorary membership in the club. From then on, Nahum was attacked directly for being an Allianciste and a puppet in the hands of David Fresco. Friction in Istanbul became so intolerable that the leadership of the Zionist movement wrote directly to the Alliance in Paris, calling for an official truce, a move rejected by the Central Committee, which announced that it had not started the fight and it could not control what was happening in the city.
Conflicts between the communal administrations and Haim Nahum, between the Ashkenazim and the Chief Rabbinate, between the Zionists and the anti-Zionists paralyzed all communal affairs. While the war years brought a relative calm, the Armistice brought the old conflicts back to the surface. The Balfour Declaration gave a new zeal to the local Zionists, who could attract more people into their ranks now that the dream of "a National Home for the Jews" was realized. Furthermore, the very future existence of Turkey as an independent state appeared to be in doubt. Inspired by the Wilsonian ideals of autonomy for minorities, the Zionists were active in the creation of a Jewish National Council in Istanbul in 1918 to take over all communal administrations. The Chief Rabbi Nahum, against whom this coup d'etat had been intended, succeeded in disbanding the council in 1919. Nevertheless, the Zionists dominated the communal administrations between 1920 and 1922. The Federation Sioniste d'Orient created in 1919 recruited 4000 members in Istanbul. Other Zionist organizations also attracted increasing numbers in the capital and in provincial cities such as Edirne. The attacks on the Alliance continued in the Zionist press. Finally, the advent of the new Turkish Republic drove Zionism underground and removed it from public view.
The expectation in 1908 on the part of the Alliance of sweeping reforms in the Istanbul communal administration and the restructuring of the Jewish millet did not materialize. The emergence of an ideological opposition caught the organization by surprise and put it increasingly on the defensive. As long as Nahum was in power, the Alliance could be certain that the attacks on it could be neutralized, as it was the Chief Rabbi who had the real executive power in the community. And indeed, the schools were thus able to function normally. But this was small consolation for an organization which had expected that its troubles in Turkey would be over after the replacement in 1908 of the old guard at the helm of the Jewish community. The Alliance was still in an unsurpassed position in the field of Jewish education in Turkey. But by 1914, it no longer commanded the allegiance of important sectors among the secular elements within Turkish Jewry.
The Coming of Age of Turkish Jewry
Although the Alliance was not facing a comparable conflict in Edirne and Izmir, its position among Turkish Jewry as a whole was in danger of being eroded by the situation in Istanbul, not only the capital of the Empire, but also the real center of power of the Jews of Turkey. There were many graduates of its schools, especially among the notables, who stood by the Alliance. But many of its fiercest opponents were also graduates of its institutions. The teachers pointed out with great bitterness that all of the leading anti-Alliancistes were themselves the products of the Alliance. A majority of the membership of the Zionist Makabi club was composed of Alliance students. The Agudat Cremieux had been created by the Zionist alumni of the Alliance schools. Sciuto, the editor of L'Aurore, was an Alliance graduate. So was Nessim Rousso, the secretary of the Ministry of Interior, and a leading Zionist and opponent of Nahum. David Elnekave, the editor of the Zionist El Judio, had been a student in the Alliance Rabbinical Seminary in Istanbul and had been taught by Nahum himself. Significantly, the two leading Zionist newspapers in the city, L'Aurore and La Nation published in French, and their audience was the Francophone class that had come into existence as a result of the activities of the Alliance. Sam Hochberg, a leader of the Zionist movement in Istanbul, and Jacques Loria, the editor of the Zionist La Nation after World War I, were both ex-directors of Alliance schools. Though these two were exceptions, as most Alliance teachers remained loyal, they epitomize the erosion of the position of the organization in Turkey.
It is evident that sections of the mass following of Zionism in Istanbul were composed of individuals that had hardly been touched by the educational activities of the Alliance. Often poor and uneducated, many gravitated toward an anti-establishment movement that promised change in communal affairs and the imminent dawn of better days. But it is also true that substantial elements among the Zionists, especially among its local Sephardic leadership, were composed of Alliance graduates. As Giroux argues, while the modern educational process reproduces dominant social values, it can also be remarkably open-ended in its outcome. Modern schooling acts to mould and socialize the student according to distinctly ideological criteria, but it can also create sites of contestation where many of the recipients of the instruction can turn their newly acquired tools toward directions never intended by the dispensers of the education. The latter situation was in evidence in the case of many nationalist elites in colonial contexts who clashed with the colonial power that had educated them. It was also the case with many graduates of the Alliance schools.
Teachers in the 1890s and early 1900s already identified the fact that the organization was losing some of its influence over the new middle class, especially in Istanbul. Many Turkish Jews were no longer satisfied by the very insignificant role assigned to them by the Alliance Central Committee in the running of its schools. The local committees, or school committees which were supposed to support the activities of the Alliance and have a say in the day-to-day administration of its institutions, had never functioned properly. The directors were jealous of their prerogatives and did not want to share power. So, with a few exceptions as in Galata where a school committee composed of the leading Istanbul notables, Francos or otherwise, had been in continuous existence since the 1870s, most schools were directed by the Alliance personnel under the strict supervision of the Central Committee. By the twentieth century, most committees had either been disbanded or were moribund.
The Alliance had always enjoyed a strong relationship with the notable class in Turkey. The Regional Committee, the preserve of the Francos under the leadership of first Salomon and later Isaac Fernandez, though never functioning on a regular basis, had been important for the Central Committee in its dealings with the communal organizations. The school directors had courted the notables over questions of money and had relied on them to neutralize any threat from the rabbinate. But the notables had not been directly involved with the running of the Alliance institutions. Neither the Central Committee nor the directors were prepared to compromise the total independence of the Alliance. Even though the organization had to satisfy the wishes and needs of the locality, Paris had always enjoyed a great freedom of action in the way it went about responding to local demands. A partnership between the locality and the Alliance was indispensable for the survival of its institutions. But this was an unequal partnership at best, with the Central Committee firmly in charge, and Eastern Jewry very much a weak, junior partner in the Alliance enterprise.
As several generations educated in the Alliance schools, fully cognizant of developments in Europe, came into their own, there began to emerge increasing signs of resentment of the great degree of centralization of the Alliance, of the paternalism that marked the relationship between Paris and the locality. Criticism of the curriculum of the schools began to appear in the Judeo-Spanish press in the 1890s and early 1900s. Letters to the Central Committee from local personalities began to change in tone, no longer petitioning humbly the august body in Paris, but making outright demands and sometimes lashing out in fury at the inflexibility of the leadership of the Alliance. This is well illustrated in the bitter letter written by Jacques Danon, an Alliance graduate and a leading figure in the Alliance local committee and the Cercle Israelite in Edirne. Writing to Jacques Bigart, the general secretary of the Central Committee in 1903, he protested the Alliance's refusal to listen to his criticisms of the way Samuel Loupo, the director, was running the Edirne school:
It had been preceded by a critique of the Alliance curriculum written by the future historian of Turkish Jewry, Abraham Galante, and published in the Archives Israelites of 1901 and 1902. According to Galante, it was indispensable to teach more Turkish in the schools. But more significantly, local committees had to be revived so that local populations could have a say in the running of the Alliance institutions. When similar appeals that he had made from the island of Rhodes met with no response from the Alliance, Galante was bitter. He accused the Central Committee of having nothing but contempt for "the grievances of a Turkish Jew, a savage!"
There is a direct continuity between the revolt against the paternalism and centralization of the Alliance, already in evidence before 1908, and the attitude seen in the Turkish Zionist press after the Young Turk Revolution. The secretary general, Jacques Bigart, by all accounts a cold and authoritarian figure, and an ardent anti-Zionist, was a favorite target. He was accused of feeling contempt and disgust at "Orientals," of "hating certain Turkish cities and personalities." The same ironic and bitter language was very much in evidence. The Alliance treated Turkish Jewry with condescension. "[Turkish Jews] are only Orientals, while the secretary and the vice-president of the Alliance are, by the virtue of their office, the dispensers of light emanating from the great City of Light itself."
The creation of local lodges of the international B'nai B'rith order in Istanbul, Izmir, and Edirne in 1911 gave a further institutional expression to the growing independence of Turkish Jewry from the tutelage of the Alliance. Grouping some of the leading members of the Jewish bourgeoisie, whether Sephardic or Ashkenazic, the lodges were philanthropic organizations designed to coordinate the charity and mutual help activities within these cities. They became particularly active in helping the needy among Turkish Jews during the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 and during World War 1. They soon became influenced by the activities of the many Zionists who joined the organization and who were successful in using it as yet another base of agitation against the Chief Rabbi Nahum.
When the forced closure of many foreign institutions of secondary institutions-upon Turkey's entrance into World War I-threatened to leave many Jewish students without schools, the Istanbul lodge created a Jewish Iycee in 1915, the first such Jewish institution in Turkey. The Iycee taught in French and filled an important gap in the Jewish educational system. The Alliance had resolutely refused to concern itself with secondary education, arguing that it had to look after the interests of the thousands of poor Jewish youth who were not receiving any instruction whatsoever. This answer was no longer satisfactory for those elements of the new middle class who wanted to provide a more complete education for its children and had been obliged to send them to foreign, often missionary, establishments.
The president of the Istanbul lodge, as well as of the XIth District of the B'nai B'rith order that encompassed all the Levant, was none other than Joseph Niego, who had been the director of the Alliance agricultural training school at Mikveh Yisrael in Ottoman Palestine and who now represented the Jewish Colonization Organization in the Ottoman Empire, a society with very close links with the Alliance. A trusted friend of the Central Committee, he also enjoyed close contacts with the Zionists. He vented the frustration of many a communal leader vis-a-vis the Alliance in the foundation speech of the lodge of Istanbul in 1911. He expressed admiration for the extraordinary work of international Jewish organizations but at the same time, in a thinly veiled allusion to the Alliance, criticized "some of them" for considering "us Jews of the lEst as minors in order to hold us under their tutelage, while the Bene Berit [his spelling] organization declares us independent adults."
The lodges of the B'nai B'rith, all acting independently from any centralized body, went from strength to strength in Turkey in the years following World War I. By the early 1920s, they held all communal affairs in their hands. They gave the local Francophone Jewish bourgeoisie a base which the Alliance local committees, under the rigid paternalist rule of Paris, were not capable of doing. Even the greatest defender of the Alliance in Turkey, the journalist David Fresco, recognized the fact that while a member of the Alliance was supposed to pay his dues and let Paris take care of everything, the B'nai B'rith lodges were centers of extraordinary activism and enterprise in local communal affairs. Between 1908 and the early 1920s, the Alliance network had been dethroned from its position at the center of communal dynamism among Turkish Jewry by the class that it itself had brought into being.
The trends that explain the success of the local B'nai B'rith lodges on the institutional and communal levels are also in evidence in the political and ideological rallying of many Alliance graduates to Zionism. For many, the latter supplied a highly ideological medium to channel a reservoir of resentment that had developed over the years. It was a declaration of independence from Paris, an attempt to prove the coming of age of Turkish Jewry. Indeed, whatever the fervor with which convictions were held, it is impossible not to see a certain degree of calculated instrumentalism in the rallying to the banner of Zionism, as a means of bringing the all-powerful Alliance to its knees. Commenting on a conflict in Monastir in Macedonia in 1911 between Paris and the local Alliance Committee, Sciuto, the editor of L'Aurore, suggested that the Jews of Monastir invite the Hilisverein, the rival of the Alliance. "The Alliance feels a strong jealousy toward the Hilisverein, Monsieur Bigart would submit like a lamb." This proposal for a playing off of one Western Jewish organization against another to obtain maximum satisfaction for the locality is very revealing. Zionism could be an abstract ideology of Jewish nationalism without many practical consequences. But in the local context, it was the rallying call of all the "outs" against the "ins," of the younger generation against the older, a means of ending the rule of the old oligarchy in the community, a call for the democratization of the political process.
The Alliance, the 1848 republicanism of its founders notwithstanding, had become deeply conservative by the twentieth century and was steeped in the politics of notables, used to working behind the scenes with a few influential individuals. It was now part of the Jewish establishment, and had itself become the Jewish ancien regime. The democratization of its institutions called for by the Zionists, the opening up of its local committees, would have meant sharing power with the locality to a degree hitherto unknown in the annals of the organization. The Central Committee opposed this development steadfastly in all the areas where it had schools. Turkey was no exception.
However, the ideological appeal of Zionism for Turkish Jewry should not be ignored. The situation in the Levant in the first decade of the twentieth century was ripe for a nationalist movement among its Jewish communities. The Judeo-Spanish Kulturbereich, till then a unit within the confines of the Ottoman Empire, had seen the world it had known for centuries crumble away. Ottoman rule was being replaced by new nation-states. Serbia was the first such state with a sizeable Judeo-Spanish population to break away from the Empire in the early nineteenth century. It was followed by the rise of Bulgaria in 1878, with a much more substantial Sephardic community. Salonica was to fall under Greek rule in 1912. The opening up to the West of the Ottoman state, the penetration of European imperialism, the examples of Greek, Armenian and other nationalisms all led many Turkish Jews to rethink traditional political categories.
The concept of the separate Jewish "nation (denoted by the same word in Judeo-Spanish)," called the Jewish millet in Turkish by the nineteenth century, had been an important entity in the Ottoman Empire, whether de facto or de jure. It had constituted the central frame of reference in all questions of identity and had been legitimized for centuries by the Ottoman state. With these antecedents, and in the context of an Empire in its last years, an ideology of Jewish nationalism did not need much belaboring to appeal to some Turkish Jews. By asserting that the Jews constituted a "nation" like all others, it appeared to reformulate in a modernized form the traditional category of the Jewish millet in the Middle East. The sense of a corporate Jewish community, unlike in Western Europe where it had been dismantled long before the arrival of Zionism, was still, like in Eastern Europe, a living reality in Turkey when Zionism became a burning issue.
Like many Zionist movements elsewhere, there is little evidence to suggest that Turkish Zionists were very concerned in the emigration to Palestine. In the local context, Zionism stood for a Jewish nationalism aiming at cultural revival. This implied the "nationalization" of Jewish education and the adop- tion of Hebrew as a living "national" language. Ultimately, it stood for the modern legitimation of the Jewish "nation" as the primary source of identity for Turkish Jewry.
The ideology of emancipation, central to the world view of the Alliance, exercised an appeal on some Turkish Jewish intellectuals such as Abraham Galante, Moise Kohen (alias Munis Tekinalp), and others who greeted the Young Turk revolution with great enthusiasm and who were to participate in the political life of the country. However, it is significant that its appeal was limited to certain individuals and that their constituency was not a Jewish one. Unlike Zionism, Turkish politics did not attract the participation of large numbers of Jews. In spite of the writings of a few intellectuals, there did not emerge an organized political movement among them which sought to spread Turkish nationalism among the Jewish masses or to actively involve them in the political process in the country.
The Alliance itself played a complex, dialectical role in the emergence of Zionism among some of the graduates of its schools. By infusing a great degree of Westernization into the life of Turkish Jews, it put them into direct contact with the currents of opinion in world Jewry. It gave Turkish Jewry the tools to forge new links with modern political ideologies. The ideology of emancipation that it espoused had been shaped by the Jewish experience in the modern West-European nation-state. This ideology, which emphasized the abstract virtues and duties of citizenship over and above ethnic-religious affiliation, had little chance of mass acceptance in the context of a crumbling Empire where such an identity, instead of weakening, was gaining new life under the influence of modern nationalism.
In its institutions, the Alliance familiarized Turkish Jews with the Western model of emancipation, a development which also increased their consciousness about the local conditions which fell far short of that model. The revolution of 1908 had come too late to make a fundamental difference and had not had time to alter the place of the Jew in the Ottoman polity. The Ottomanist agenda of creating a new nation composed of all the groups that lived in the empire had collapsed under its own contradictions and was now increasingly replaced by a more exclusivist Turkish nationalism. The institution of the millet, its autonomy much eroded by the Ottoman state, had nevertheless survived as a separate entity. Given the difficulties of implementing the Western route of emancipation and its accompanying state-imposed "regeneration" in the context of the multi-ethnic, semi-colonized Ottoman Empire, many Alliance graduates drew nationalistic conclusions which had not been foreseen by the organization. These conclusions were also reinforced by the message of a secular Jewish solidarity taught in the schools. A perspicacious French consul, writing about the spread of Zionism among the Jews of the East in 1911, put it succinctly: "The nobility of sentiments [of the leaders of the Alliance] have hid from them certain social realities. They did not realize that by favoring the birth of principles and ideas of a Hebraic nationalism, they would give rise to new aspirations..."
For many such as Lucien Sciuto, the activities of the Alliance and the message of Zionism need not be contradictory. There were two forces of Jewish emancipation. The first worked by "raising us through instruction," the second, "renewed us by national sentiment." The first "wrested us from intellectual obscurity, as the other attempts to wrest us from national humiliation." "Regeneration," the ideal of the Alliance, had undergone a metamorphosis, and had become "national regeneration." In spite of itself, the Alliance's work constituted an important catalyst in this development.
The Response of the Alliance to Zionism
Three factors shaped the Alliance's response to Zionism: its ideology, its direct experience of Zionist agitation against its schools in Bulgaria, and its fears of alienating the Turkish government.
The ideology of the Alliance diverged considerably from that of the Zionists. The organization was passionate in its belief in the importance of the emancipation of the Jews wherever they lived and saw it as its central task to help the Jews achieve equality with their fellow countrymen throughout the world. In this it reflected the mid-nineteenth-century optimism of Western Jewry. It saw antisemitism as a throwback to the Middle Ages and was never in doubt about the ultimate victory of the principles of emancipation. Zionists, on the other hand, believed that emancipation was an illusion and that antisemitism could not be eradicated. Furthermore, the naive faith in emancipation and in its benefits would lead to increasing assimilation and to the eventual disappearance of the Jewish people as a distinct entity.
This fundamental ideological chasm could not be bridged, some points of contact notwithstanding. The Alliance's motto was that of Jewish solidarity, of union among the Jews tied together by a common religious and moral tradition. The Alliance was not, as the Zionists were to claim, just a philanthropic organization, and its political program did call for international Jewish mobilization, an idea not alien to the Zionist canon. Furthermore, the Alliance had been the first Jewish organization to concern itself with the "productivization" of Jewish life in Palestine, founding there the first agricultural school, Mikveh Yisrael, and the first trade school. But its "Palestinophile" stance certainly did not envisage a Jewish political presence, nor massive immigration, as the land was considered too poor to support large numbers of people. This, of course, was anathema to the Zionists. But the clash was not confined to the level of abstract ideology. The Alliance was the doyen of international Jewish organizations. The Anglo-Jewish Association and the Israelitische Allianz zu Wien were sister societies which worked closely with it. The Alliance's position of leadership in the Jewish world was gradually eroded toward the turn of the century with the emergence of the Zionist Organization and the Hilisverein der Deutschen Juden which were completely independent and acted directly against its interests. Part of the Alliance's opposition to Zionism should be seen in the context of its trying to defend the status quo in the Jewish world where it had become used to primacy in the international scene.
It is possible that the conflict with the Zionists might have been more muted if it had remained in the sphere of high politics and ideology. However, it was Zionist politics in practice, in the localities where the Alliance had a considerable stake in numerous institutions, which added a degree of bitterness to the quarrel which would take years to heal. Historians have practically ignored the fact that it was in Bulgaria, and not in Palestine, that the Alliance-Zionist clash on this level erupted first. It was the experience of Bulgarian Zionism which marked deeply the attitude of the Alliance.
The reasons for the emergence of Zionism as a mass movement among the Jews of Bulgaria and its extraordinarily successful culmination in the emigration of the whole community en masse to the state of Israel after World War II (the only community to do so as a whole of its own volition) appear extremely complex and await scholarly treatment. The traumatic transition after the Russo-Turkish war of 1878 from centuries of Ottoman rule to the new Bulgarian one, the militant nationalism of the new state, the strategic position of the community living in a border area between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic worlds open to influences from both sides, were all significant factors in this development.
As early as 1895, long before Herzl came onto the scene, the directors of the Alliance schools in the Bulgarian communities were already noting increasing Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) influence among the youth, with several Palestine colonization organizations forming in cities such as Sofia, Philippopoli, and Phlevna. The same press wars that would erupt over a decade later in Istanbul were already in evidence in 1895 in Philippopoli, with the charismatic Marco Baruch emerging as a leading Zionist propagandist. The Alliance school director of the town was quick to call him a kind of a maniac, an escapee of Bicetre [the famous insane asylum in Paris].
Inevitably, the Alliance schools became involved in the conflicts. Zionists accused them of being too French, of making Jews too submissive to the authorities. this was the first time that the schools were attacked by Zionists anywhere and Secretary General Bigart's reaction set the tone of the Alliance's response throughout the Sephardic world in the next two decades. Zionism was "a movement which appears to us as neither suitable for the interests of Judaism, nor to its actual needs; it is ill-timed, it is nothing more than an attempt to plunder those who possess a little and those who possess nothing..." He wrote to another director:
The latter judgment appeared to be vindicated when, in the next few years, the old notables who had controlled communal affairs since Ottoman times came under increasing fire from the Zionists and, under conditions of universal suffrage introduced by the Bulgarian constitution, were defeated in many cities. The Zionists benefited from the democratization of the political process in these communities where the classic form of rule had been oligarchic and became the favorites of the dispossessed classes.
Soon, Zionists took over most of the Alliance school committees, now compulsory institutions under Bulgarian law. In a Zionist congress taking place in Philippopoli in 1899, severe attacks were directed against the Alliance, and the school director was asked to make Hebrew the language of instruction in the school and not to teach French until the upper division. The Alliance was helpless to stem the tide of similar demands in other Bulgarian cities but refused to budge and to make any concessions.
In 1903, the Zionists openly threatened the Alliance with expulsion from Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Zionist Central Committee in a vitriolic letter written to Paris in 1903 accused the organization of "assimilationist" and "anti-nationalist" activities and of being the "organizers of French influence in the Orient." Echoing the theme of independence from Paris that would emerge in Turkey a few years later, in the same context, they added: "We are sufficiently grown up to do without your tutelage . . . If you do not want to leave of your own volition, we will send you away by force." And indeed, the Zionists literally expelled the Alliance from all but two Bulgarian Jewish communities by 1913. This was an unprecedented development in the history of the organization and would not be paralleled anywhere else. The first encounter between the Alliance and Zionism on the local level did not augur well for the future and made the Alliance exceptionally nervous about the spread of the movement elsewhere.
In a letter written in 1908, the Alliance defended its decision not to allow Zionists to use its school building in Varna for their activities in the following way: "You do not ignore the sentiment of hostility that Zionism inspires in the Ottoman government, and we do not want it to believe that our buildings serve as meeting centers for the propagandists of the doctrine.'' This supplies the key to an important factor that contributed to the Alliance's hostility to Zionism, the fear of alienating the Ottoman government.
The bulk of the organization's schools were in the Ottoman Empire. It had created important institutions like Mikveh Yisrael and the Jerusalem trade school in Palestine. It had closely monitored Ottoman moves to restrict Jewish immigration to the Holy Land since the 1880s. The presidents of the Regional Committee in Istanbul, Salomon and Isaac Fernandez, kept the Alliance informed of every change of mood of the Porte, from its reactions to Oliphant's proposals for Palestine to the decision in 1896 not to allow Jews to buy land there. Isaac Fernandez laid the blame for the latter development squarely at the door of Herzl and the agitations of the Bulgarian Zionists. Together with many Alliance teachers, he warned repeatedly of the dangers of Zionism for Turkish Jewry.
The Alliance was genuinely pro-Turkish. It always lauded the very humane treatment of the Jews by the Ottoman governments and compared it with the barbaric policies of "Christian" Russia. True to the spirit of its ideology of emancipation, it tried to foster patriotism for Turkey in its schools in the Empire. In 1892, it delegated its Regional Committee to convey to the Sultan the sentiments of gratitude of world Jewry on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Sephardic exiles in the Ottoman Empire. It reacted favorably to the plans of conscription of Jews in 1893, and was satisfied when this became a reality after 1909, viewing it as a normal duty of all citizens.'
Nevertheless, in spite of its pro-Turkish attitude, the organization could not escape the suspicion with which all foreign organizations were viewed by the Turkish government in the second half of the nineteenth century. The period saw a massive increase in the number of schools created by foreign missionary organizations and by the non-Muslim communities of the Empire. Turkish attempts to limit or control the activities of these schools which maintained complete independence from Istanbul and taught whatever they saw fit, were continually hampered by the action of foreign powers. The capitulation treaties gave virtually limitless rights of "protection" to Western powers which used and abused these rights to further their own interests. There was a great deal of resentment in the Porte at this interference, resentment which contributed to the opposition to Zionism which was seen as creating yet another avenue for foreign meddling in Turkey's internal affairs.
The Alliance could not escape the fact that it was a "foreign" organization in the eyes of the Turks. It was usually left alone, as the Jews were not considered a threat until the rise of Zionism. Nevertheless, with the emergence of the issue of Jewish immigration into Palestine in the 1880s, there began to appear indications that the Porte was growing suspicious of its activities. The Jewish doctor of the Sultan, Elias Pasa, did not come to the festivities in Istanbul on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Alliance in 1885, because of the Sultan's belief that the Alliance was encouraging Jewish immigration to Palestine. Isaac Fernandez mentioned in 1898 that his friends at the Porte advised a clear public statement against Zionism on the part of the Alliance, advice which does not seem to have been acted upon by Paris. In 1901, during a discussion at the Council of State on the question of the authorization to be given to legalize the agricultural school Or Yehudah, several members of the Council accused the Alliance of having political aims. One of the reasons given for the rejection by the Porte in 1907 of Jacob Meir as Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem was that he was associated with the Alliance.
In spite of the great degree of independence enjoyed by the organization until 1914, it had become well aware by the turn of the century that as a foreign institution it had to tread very carefully in Turkey. Given the Turkish suspicion of all foreign groups and organizations in a new climate of nationalism, and the particular suspicion with which Zionism was treated at the highest levels of power, it appeared doubly imperative to the Alliance to distance itself as much as possible from the movement. Apart from its own ideological inclinations, and the bitter taste left after the debacle in Bulgaria, it had too much at stake in the Ottoman Empire to risk being tarred with the Zionist brush.
This attitude was in evidence throughout the Alliance's dealings with the Zionist movement in Turkey. Fernandez had warned the Alliance of the dangers of Zionism for the Jews of Turkey as early as 1897. Then followed a mysterious correspondence between the Central Committee and the Porte on the question of Zionism. The only trace of it left in the archives is the mention made by Fernandez that he had forwarded a letter sent by the Alliance to the first secretary of the Sultan and to the grand vizir. Presumably it was some sort of assurance that the Alliance had nothing to do with the Zionist movement.
The tactic adopted by the Alliance as an organization in the face of Zionism in Turkey was public silence. The Central Committee continually refused the advice of its friends to go on the attack and to subsidize a newspaper in French that would oppose the Zionist L'Aurore. It even refused to allow the Amicale, its alumni association in Istanbul, to install gymnastic equipment in its school buildings to draw the youth away from the Zionist Makabi, which had become very popular among Alliance students. It also refused to subsidize the buying of a new building for the Amicale. The same policy was adopted in Salonica where similar conflicts between the Zionists and the anti- Zionists were taking place.
The Alliance preferred to leave its position on Zionism ambiguous in the Jewish world and did not want to alienate some of its membership. Furthermore, it did not want to fuel further the polemical fires. In contrast to its early years, when it had shown a particular agility in using the press for propaganda purposes, the grande dame of Jewish organizations, after close to half a century of existence, had become set in her ways, had lost a certain elan, had become too much part of the establishment in the Jewish world to stomach active participation in a press war.
There was one occasion when the Alliance broke its silence, and it was, significantly, during a meeting with a Turkish parliamentary delegation in Paris in 1909. The delegation, headed by Dr. Riza Tevfik Bey, deputy for Edirne, himself a graduate of an Alliance school, made a courtesy call to the Central Committee in Paris on July 15, 1909. In the course of the conversation, after expressing his great sympathy for the Alliance, Riza Tevfik Bey indicated that
Apart from this episode, the Central Committee maintained a public silence on the question of Zionism in Turkey (though individual members of the Central Committee did make occasional anti-Zionist comments in public). Privately, it had a more interventionist policy, relying on Haim Nabum to carry on the anti-Zionist fight. When Nahum became discouraged by the Zionist agitation against him in 1909 and began to talk about resignation, it was Bigart who tried to lift his morale. He then made the extraordinary suggestion that Nahum use some of his contacts to have a non-Jewish deputy ask in Parliament for the government's opinion of Zionism in order to elicit a firm anti-Zionist statement, and offered his help to find funds if it were necessary. It was Bigart's theory that a governmental statement of opposition to Zionism would dampen the agitation among the masses. Nothing seems to have come out of the plan in the short term. Bigart returned to the charge a year later, encouraging Nahum to adopt a more activist anti-Zionist stance and encourage a minister who was his friend to make anti-Zionist statements in the Chamber of Deputies. These suggestions do not appear to have been implemented. Nahum was increasingly in conflict with the communal administration, and any leak that might have followed his acting upon Bigart's advice would have destroyed his political career for good. Although 1911 was to see two great debates in the Ottoman Chamber on Zionism, there is no indication that they came about because of Nahum's following the advice of the Alliance.
What is extraordinary about the plan of Bigart is that it was a remarkably foolhardy suggestion coming from a very conservative man. Zionism was indeed a sensitive topic, and the Alliance was right to fear that in the climate of injured Turkish nationalism in the twilight years of the Empire it could lead to the rise of antisemitism. Yet it appears that Bigart was sufficiently consumed by anti-Zionist emotion to throw caution to the winds. Anti-Zionist statements in the Chamber were bound, as they did in 1911, to spread distrust of the Jews among the Turkish public at large. The Empire was threatened by rampant nationalisms from all sides. It did not require much to add the Jews to the list of distrusted nationalities. Bigart's plan would have contributed directly to what the Alliance feared would be the inevitable consequence of Zionism, the emergence of a Jewish Question in Turkey.
This uncharacteristically adventurous and ill-advised move by Bigart is best interpreted in the light of the mood of desperation that seems to have been created in the Alliance headquarters in Paris by the hostile propaganda and politics that had emerged in the Jewish communities of the Levant. None of the reorganization of the communal administrations so ardently anticipated in 1908 had come about. The Alliance schools were threatened from all sides. The Bulgarian precedent constituted a chilling reminder of what could happen if Zionism were not checked. Faced with all these problems, the Alliance engaged in some rare soul- searching in 1910-11. Responding to an Alliance teacher who had sent a report on how Zionism was transforming Turkish Jewry, Bigart was pessimistic:
Its only concession in the schools was to increase the hours devoted to the study of Hebrew in 1920. But soon, the new republic terminated the question of Zionism in Turkey as well as putting an end to the Alliance schools within its borders.
The Alliance still had many friends in the Turkish Jewish community,
and an elite which, even if quite independent from the Alliance, bore its
strong imprint. Nevertheless, by World War I, the trend away from the Alliance
had become unmistakable. Its tutelage of Eastern Jewry no longer carried
the same clout, or enjoyed the same popularity. New forces had emerged,
and the Alliance, whose world view was still fixed within the parameters
of the experi- ence of Jewish emancipation in Western Europe a century
earlier, was slowly but surely left behind.