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Cold Case in Constantine: Anti-Jewish Violence and the Colonial Situation in French Algeria

February 11 @ 5:15 pm - 7:00 pm

Joshua Cole in conversation with Steve Zipperstein

Joshua Cole (University of Michigan)

Steve Zipperstein (Stanford University)


Cole’s book is about the Constantine riots of August 1934, an episode of violence between Muslims and Jews in French Algeria that resulted in the deaths of 25 Jews and 3 Muslims.  The murders in Constantine were the most lethal episode of anti-Jewish violence on French territory in peacetime in the modern era.  The riot is seen by many as the moment that a growing rupture between Algeria’s Jews and Muslims became irrevocable, a turning point in a long history which eventually led to the departure of Algeria’s Jews for France at the end of the French-Algerian war in 1962.  My book demonstrates, however, that the Constantine riots were connected to provocations by right-wing French militants with ties to the local political establishment.  The provocateurs sought to inflame tensions between Muslims and Jews as part of a larger scheme to block reforms to the colonial regime and maximize the leverage of anti-Jewish political movements. Electoral reforms in the 1920s gave some Muslims the right to vote and run for office in local assemblies, and the agitators who provoked the violence in 1934 sought to taint the new cohort of Muslim officials with the stain of murder.  My  book, in other words, is about the ways that political reforms in French Algeria created opportunities for right-wing provocateurs to inflame local tensions in order to gain political advantage during the years that led up to the Second World War.

Joshua Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan, where he specializes in the social and cultural history of France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is the author of Lethal Provocation: The Constantine Murders and the Politics of French Algeria (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019) and The Power of Large Numbers: Population, Politics, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), as well as articles on colonial violence and the politics of memory in France, Algeria, and Germany. He is also the author, with Carol Symes, of Western Civilizations (New York: W.W. Norton, 20th edition, forthcoming in 2019).

Steven J. Zipperstein is the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University. He has also taught at universities in Russia, Poland, France, and Israel; for six years, he taught at Oxford University. For sixteen years he was Director of the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford. He is the author and editor of eight books and his articles have appeared in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, the Washington Post, The New Republic, the Jewish Review of Books, Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere.

Zipperstein is the immediate past Chair of the Academic Advisory Council of the Center for Jewish History, in New York and is currently Chair of the Stanford History Department’s Graduate Studies Committee.


February 11
5:15 pm - 7:00 pm


Berkeley Center for Jewish Studies


Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
2121 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA 94720 United States
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