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Alliance Israelite Universelle

The Alliance Israelite Universelle (Heb. חֲבֵרִים כִּי״חַ כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל All Israel are comrades) was the first modern international Jewish organization, founded in 1860, centered in Paris. The foundation of the Alliance expressed the renewal of Jewish cohesiveness after a short period of weakening in the second half of the 18th and up to the forties of the 19th century. Its inception was stimulated by ideological trends and political events in the national and international spheres in the second half of the 19th century.

Origins and Structure

From the outset the Alliance labored under a built-in tension; it was conceived to be a world organization of "fortunate" Jews, who had achieved emancipation and assimilation in their own countries, to help their fellow-Jews, wherever they were suffering for or discriminated against because of their religion.

The Damascus Affair in 1840 renewed the urge toward Jewish solidarity and cooperation. Opinions were subsequently voiced, especially in Germany and France, that a regular body should be established to defend Jews everywhere, whenever discriminated against on religious grounds. The idea was discussed by various authors ( Z. *Frankel ; J. Carvallo). The 1848 European revolutionary climate, however, worked against Jewish cohesion. On the other hand, the political constellation in Europe of the 1850–60s, and the hegemony of France under Napoleon III, was propitious for the establishment of a Jewish organization under French leadership for international Jewish work.

The *Mortara case in 1858 accentuated the urge for world-Jewish self-help, while the French hegemony in Europe pointed to French Jews as the natural leaders. Inter-European tensions in the Catholic Church also emphasized the international character of religious problems, and the need for international solutions. The same year, Isidor *Cahen declared in his Archives Israélites that the Jews should mainly rely on themselves for their own defense, and suggested the establishment of an intercommunal organization to be named "Alliance Israélite Universelle" to defend the interests of Jews throughout the world. In February 1860 Simon Bloch, the French writer and later secretary of the Alliance, repeated this proposal. The Alliance was launched in May 1860, the founder-members – J. Carvallo; I. Cahen; N. *Leven , the secretary of Adolphe *Crémieux; A. *Astruc , and the poet, E. Manuel – meeting in the house of Charles *Netter . In June 1860 they published their manifesto which stressed the need for solidarity on Jewish matters, and stated that the Alliance would "serve as a most important stimulus to Jewish regeneration."

The aims of the Alliance, as formulated by Carvallo and Netter were three: "to work everywhere for the emancipation and moral progress of the Jews; to offer effective assistance to Jews suffering from antisemitism; and to encourage all publications calculated to promote this aim."

The statutes of the Alliance stipulated a typically French centralism. It was to be administered by a central committee of 30 members, located in Paris, elected by the general assembly of all members of the organization. Two-thirds of the central committee had to be Paris residents. Seven formed a quorum. The central committee had to report annually to the general assembly. Regional and local committees everywhere had to transfer their funds to the central committee, or to use part of them locally, with permission of the central committee. All Alliance presidents have been French Jews with the exception of the German S.H. Goldschmidt (president 1881–98). Adolphe Crémieux (president 1863–80) did much for the development of the Alliance. Other presidents have included Solomon *Munk , Narcisse Leven, Sylvain *Lévi , and René *Cassin .

Aims and Activity

Its aims, as expressed in its statutes, have been implemented under changing historical conditions. These, ever since its establishment, have influenced the scale and direction of its activities, conducted mainly in the diplomatic, social, and educational spheres.

Diplomatic Activity

The Alliance soon became the address to which persecuted Jewish communities turned to for help throughout the world. From the 1880s its main diplomatic activities were conducted on behalf of Near-Eastern Jewish communities. Political intervention was secured by various means and the Alliance may be considered the pioneer of Jewish diplomatic methods in modern times. During and after the 1860s the Alliance made repeated appeals to obtain improvement of the legal status of the Jews of Serbia and Romania basing its case on paragraph 46 of the 1858 Paris Convention, which declared the principle of equal rights for the Jews. The Alliance interceded on behalf of the Jews of Belgium and of Russia, and for civil rights of the Jews of Switzerland. After Adolphe Crémieux became president, the French Foreign Office and French authorities in the colonies and protectorates frequently cooperated with the Alliance.

The peak period of Alliance diplomatic activity was during the Congress of Berlin (1878; see *Berlin, Congress of), when, in conjunction with the Joint Foreign Committee of the Anglo-Jewish Association, and the Board of Deputies it took steps to protect the interests of the Jews in the Balkan countries, obtaining the inclusion of a paragraph in the treaties with these states stipulating civil rights for all Jews. The Alliance interceded with the sultan of Morocco during the Madrid Congress of 1880, and obtained promises for the improvement of the status of Moroccan Jews. At the peace conference of Versailles, after World War I, the Alliance was active on behalf of the Jews of Poland, Hungary, Romania, and other countries affected by the peace treaties. It acted independently of the *Comité des Délégations Juives , since the Alliance opposed both the concepts of national *minority rights and of *Zionism ; the Alliance then cooperated with those Anglo-Jewish organizations holding similar views.


The Alliance began to provide assistance to Jews who wished to leave countries where they suffered from disabilities in 1869, mainly on behalf of Jews from Russia and Romania. It contacted both institutions and individuals in the U.S. to ascertain whether Jewish emigration there was desirable, the numbers that could be absorbed, and the most suitable qualifications. The Jewish migration was regulated by the committee for Jewish refugees in Koenigsberg, established and operated in collaboration with other Jewish organizations. The Koenigsberg committee also cared for the placement of starving Jewish orphans with German Jewish families for possible adoption. With the commencement of mass emigration from Russia after the pogroms of 1881, the Alliance again shared relief activities with other Jewish organizations.

When the first wave of 4,000 refugees arrived in Brody, Galicia, that year, Charles Netter went there on behalf of the Alliance. He failed, however, to cope with the unprecedented stream of emigrants. Subsequently the Alliance participated in several conferences of Jewish organizations and at that held in 1882, was charged to find opportunities for Jewish immigration outside the United States. It participated in two such conferences after 1891, although by then it had decided that it would not support the refugees in order to discourage further emigration. In matters of migration, the Alliance also cooperated with the *Jewish Colonization Association (ICA).


In the 1890s the Alliance began to concentrate its efforts (in conjunction with ICA) on aiding Jewish education, especially in the Balkans (until after World War I) and the Middle Eastern countries. The educational activity of the Alliance was concerted with its diplomatic efforts, since it aimed at the betterment of the social and legal status of the Jews through their "cultural and moral elevation." It was also an expression of the French patriotism of the Alliance and its pride in French language and culture which it intended to disseminate among the Jews. The work encountered difficulties since certain communities viewed the propagation of French culture in the schools established by the Alliance as a danger to the traditional framework of Jewish life. The French character of Alliance education was also to prove its undoing as it became inconsistent with the new nationalist spirit in these countries following World War I.

The important network of schools established by the Alliance made rapid progress with the help of large donations by Baron Maurice de Hirsch "to improve the position of the Jews in the Turkish Empire by instruction and education." These amounted to one million gold francs in 1874 and ten million gold francs in 1889. In Greece ten schools were opened at intervals, but progress there was arrested in the period between the two world wars; only four remained open by 1939 and there were none by the 1960s. In Bulgaria, the Alliance established ten schools between 1870 and 1885; these gradually disappeared soon after World War I. A similar process took place in Turkey where in 1912, the Alliance possessed 71 boys' schools and 44 girls' schools, of which 52 were in European Turkey (including the Balkans) and 63 in Asian Turkey (including Iraq, etc.). From 1932 the Alliance gradually handed over its schools to the local communities. The few schools of the Alliance in Serbia and Romania similarly closed. The Alliance increasingly concentrated its educational activities in North Africa and the Near East, including Iran. In Morocco, the schools in Tetuan (founded 1862) and Tangiers (1869) were followed by schools in five major cities (1873–1902). In 1912 almost 5,500 pupils attended 14 schools. At that time, the French administration began to take an interest in these activities and an agreement was concluded between the local government and the Alliance in 1928, whereby Alliance schools were placed under the strict control of the Public Education Department, and were also assured of effective material support. The network of the Alliance henceforth became an integral part of the social and educational activities conducted in the protectorate. The Alliance social relief activities combined with the educational movement to improve the living conditions of the pupils from the mellah. In 1939, 45 schools in Morocco had 15,761 pupils. The support of the local authorities enabled the Alliance to continue its work even during World War II. It received a new impetus in 1945. From 14,000 pupils in 1945, the total rose to 28,000 in 1952, the increase in attendance being mainly in the large urban centers of Marrakesh, Fez, Rabat, and Casablanca.

The Ecole Normale Hébraïque of Casablanca fulfilled the local need for Jewish teachers. The Alliance also increased its activities in the small communities, and a school was established for every Jewish community numbering 300 to 400 persons. In Casablanca, the Alliance also established a school for sufferers from trachoma, as well as an institute for the deaf and dumb, in collaboration with *ORT and the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee . In Tunisia, the Alliance opened its first school in 1878; by 1960, there were 2,150 pupils in elementary schools, 700 in secondary schools, and 76 in commercial classes run by the Alliance. An attempt to open a school in Beirut in 1869 was unsuccessful, but later several schools were established.

Alliance schools in Beirut were destroyed by explosives in 1950, but were immediately rebuilt. In 1960 the schools of Saida and Beirut had 1,295 pupils. Several Alliance schools functioned in Syria, mainly in Damascus and Aleppo. In Iraq, where the Alliance opened a school in Baghdad in 1865, there were 6,000 pupils in its ten schools in 1947. In Iran, the Alliance inaugurated its first school in Teheran in 1898, not without encountering difficulties from the local Jewish community. In 1960, the school network of the Alliance in Iran had 15 schools with a total of 6,200 pupils, the greatest concentration being in Teheran; in the provinces all Jewish children attended Alliance schools. In Erez Israel, the Alliance agricultural school at *Mikveh Israel was opened by Charles Netter in 1870; in 1882, an elementary school was opened in Jerusalem. Other schools followed in the important towns. In Egypt the local communities carried out the educational work on behalf of the Alliance by gradually taking upon themselves the responsibility for the local schools.

World War II marks a watershed in Alliance activities. All branches of its activities were cut off from the head office which in turn had to take refuge from Paris in the non-occupied zone. From November 1942 the isolation was complete (see *France). The Free French government interested itself in the fate of the Alliance, and General de Gaulle entrusted responsibility for it to René Cassin. After the liberation, the Alliance – with assistance from American Jewry – resumed its normal activities again in Paris, and immediately had to deal with the upheavals following the war. Its central problem involved the struggle for a Jewish state, in Israel and the upsurge of nationalism in the Arab countries, their fight against colonialism and their refusal to recognize the national existence of the Jews in Israel. The Alliance found itself in a delicate position in regard to the many schools which it maintained in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Redefining its policy and its raison d'être, the Alliance published a programmatic declaration in 1945, in which it reaffirmed its universal character, its attachment to educational work, and its determination to "demand for the Jews who so desired the right of entry into Palestine, under the auspices of the United Nations and on the responsibility of the Jewish Agency in Palestine."

The consequences of the Israel-Arab war of 1947–48 made themselves felt immediately by persecution of the Jews living in Arab countries and the mass exodus of Jews from these lands. After the departure of thousands of Jews from Iraq, all the schools of the Alliance there closed down. The same happened almost without exception in Syria and Egypt. In Morocco and Tunisia also, the success of the nationalist revolt, and the gradual achievement of independence from France, resulted in an exodus from North Africa to France as well as to Israel in the 1960s and upset the foundations of the educational project of the Alliance. In Israel, the Alliance had to relinquish the French orientation of its schools; its elementary schools were closed down or taken over by the Israel education system. These, however, combined to give preference to the teaching of French as the first foreign language. The Alliance concentrated on development of secondary education, opening schools in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.

In Morocco, the number of pupils in the schools of the Alliance fell from 30,123 in 1959 to 13,527 in 1963. In 1960, the Moroccan government decided to integrate part of the Alliance schools into its own school system. The Alliance retained its remaining schools under the name of Ittihad-Maroc, but they steadily lost their character. The same debilitation process, due to the same causes, could be observed in Tunisia and in Iran.

Educational network of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1968.

Country Number of Schools Numbers of Pupils
Morocco (Ittihad) 31 8,054
Iran (Ettehad) 13 5,158
Israel 13 4,828
Lebanon 3 1,109
Tunisia 3 1,366
Syria 1 431
Total 64 20,946

In addition to schools, the Alliance had established in Paris, in 1867, the Ecole Normale Israélite Orientale to supply the necessary directors and teachers for its schools and to give their teaching staff a certain homogeneity. The Ecole numbered 120 pupils in 1968. The Alliance had also opened (1897) a rabbinical school in Istanbul for the Oriental communities, which functioned for about ten years. A valuable library on Jewish subjects was founded at the Alliance offices in Paris, at the instance of its secretary-general, the historian Isidore *Loeb ; it also issued many publications (see Bibliography). The Alliance organized expeditions for the purpose of helping *Beta Israel in 1868, and the Jews in *Yemen in 1908.

In the 1960s, the Alliance intensified its educational activities in France, where many former pupils from North Africa now lived. The Ecole Normale Israélite Orientale ceased to be exclusively a professional school, and admitted students who did not necessarily intend to become teachers. Secondary schools were opened in Nice and in Pavilions-sous-Bois near Paris. The diplomatic activity of the Alliance were mainly carried on through the Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations (New York) founded in 1946.

In the course of its long career, the Alliance has not always been immune from controversy. In the eyes of antisemites, it became the embodiment of the Jewish international "octopus" strangling civilization. The nefarious myth of the *Elders of Zion crystallized around a falsified image of the Alliance. It was criticized for being too French and not sufficiently universal. Much criticism was directed after World War I against Sylvain Lévi who took a sharp anti-Zionist stand on behalf of the Alliance at the Versailles peace conference. In 1945, however, the Alliance took up a pro-Zionist stand.

In September 1989 the AIU inaugurated a new library which became the largest Jewish library in Europe, possessing over 120,000 items. Available at the library are the Alliance archives which have now been catalogued and offer a wealth of information on Jewish communities in the Mediterranean Basin as well as on French Jewry from the end of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th. The library also now houses specialized archives on Jewish medicine and Jewish education. It regularly organizes special exhibitions such as that on the Dreyfus Affair in 1995.

Publications of the Alliance Israelite Universelle have included: Paix et Droit, 1–20 (1921–40); Cahiers (1945– ); Mahberet (1952– ); The Alliance Israélite Universelle 18601895 (1895); La question juive devant la conférence de la paix… (1919); N. Leven, Cinquante ans d'histoire… 18601910, 2 vols. (1919–22). For other titles see Hebrew Union College Library, Dictionary Catalog of the Kalu Library, 1 (1964), 408–11.

Les Nouveaux Cahiers (1965– ) is a quarterly publication offering a forum for topics in Jewish Studies as well as for current issues of note among French Jewry. The journal regularly devotes space to interfaith relations, a subject of great concern to AIU Day-long seminars are held once or twice a year under the auspices of the journal and are devoted to a historical, political, philosophical, or literary topic. A special annual appears with the papers of these seminars.

The AIU also has a College of Jewish Studies focusing its activities, under the direction of Shmuel Trigano, on in-depth study of Jewish thought in its various expressions. In addition to its regular courses, it organizes an annual symposium on a theme concerning the basic issues of Jewish existence and attracts French scholars as well as others from elsewhere.

In additions to its own widespread network of schools, the AIU has a growing number of affiliated institutions in France, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and Israel.

The Didactic Creativity department at the Paris headquarters places its services at the disposal of teachers interested in producing school materials. One project supported by AIU was a Hebrew–French dictionary for young children and another was a large colorful fresco on the principal stages of Jewish history.

To make the most important texts in Jewish tradition available to the largest possible reading audience, AIU sponsors the works in the "Les Dix Paroles" collection of the Verdier publishing house.

In Israel, the AIU took an active role in receiving new immigrants and helping in their absorption, particularly those from the areas of the former U.S.S.R. and from Ethiopia, and also expended great effort in facilitating contacts between young Jews and Arabs towards promoting mutual understanding and tolerance.

Prof. Adolphe *Steg became president of AIU in 1985, succeeding Jules Braunschvig, honorary president who died in 1994.

[Simon R. Schwarzfuchs]

Women Teachers and Students

By 1872, women were also included in the Alliance teaching force. Since few French Jews were willing to serve as teachers in the villages and towns of North Africa and the Middle East, the Alliance sent the brightest students from its schools to be trained in Paris. While the Ecole Normale Israélite prepared all male Alliance teachers, young girls arriving in Paris were assigned either to the École Bischoffsheim, a vocational and normal school, or to the middle-class boarding schools of Madame Weill-Kahn and Madame Isaac. The Alliance opened its own normal school for girls in 1922.

The female teachers of the Alliance were a diverse group. Students in one class at Mme Isaac's, for example, came from Constantinople, Adrianople, the Dardanelles, Tangier, Monastir, Alsace, Aleppo, Damascus, Aden, Beirut, and Salonika. They also differed in background, language, and piety as well as in temperament and intellect. Their teaching experiences were equally diverse, for the positions they were assigned and the cities to which they were sent (almost never to their town of origin) rarely had much in common. Women Alliance teachers were permitted to marry; most chose to do so, generally marrying their male counterparts, and large families were the norm.

In addition to founding, teaching in, and directing Alliance schools, women teachers also established workshops, organized cottage industries, and oversaw the employment of their graduates. They negotiated, not always easily or successfully, for the support of local community leaders, and provided the Alliance with ethnographic information which became the basis of its decisions and policy making. They had the benefit of a network of support (sisters, cousins, friends, and husbands) which, in contrast to their female counterparts in France (institutrices), often freed them to act independently.

The Alliance's goals of westernization and modernization were demonstrated in its women teachers, who were models of autonomy and literacy. Their examples spoke not only to the Alliance's vision of forming female students into good mothers and intelligent companions for their future husbands, but also to the empowerment of young girls, intellectually, physically, professionally, and spiritually. Reframing the ideology of French Jewry to reflect more accurately the needs of Jewish girls, the women teachers of the Alliance, and their many thousands of students, played a central role in their own emancipation.

[Frances Malino (2nd ed.)]


A. Chouraqui, L'Alliance Israélite Universelle et la renaissance juive contemporaine (18601960) (1965); B. Mevorah, in: Zion, 23–24 (1958–59), 46–65; 28 (1963), 125–64; G. Ollivier, L'Alliance Israélite Universelle 18601960 (1959). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Benbassa and A. Rodrigue, The Jews of the Balkans (1995); M.M. Laskier, The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco 1862–1962 (1983); F. Malino, "The Women Teachers of the Alliance Israélite Universelle 1872–1940," in: J.R. Baskin (ed.), Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (19982), 248–69; idem, "Prophets in Their Own Land? Mothers and Daughters of the Alliance Israélite Universelle," in: Nashim, 3 (Spring–Summer 5760/2000), 56–73; A. Rodrigue, French Jews, Turkish Jews: The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Politics of Jewish Schooling in Turkey, 18601925 (1990); idem, Images of Sephardi and Eastern Jewries in Transition: The Teachers of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, 1860–1939 (1993).

Contact Information

Alliance Israélite Universelle
45, rue La Bruyère
75009 Paris, FRANCE
Tel: 01 53328855
E-mail: [email protected]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.