Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU)

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International Jewish organization created in Paris, 1860.

Until 1860 the Jews of France had been represented by the Consistoire Central des Israélites de France, headquartered in Paris, with branches throughout the country. The AIU was founded in Paris on 17 May 1860, by several idealistic French Jewsbusinesspeople, political activists, and members of the free professions. Certainly the most important older leader of the AIU was Adolphe Crémieux, who in 1870 became minister of justice while serving as AIU president.

The decision to create the AIU, a move to diversify and extend Jewish political activities outside France, was partly hastened by the controversy over the Mortara Case, concerning the abduction of a Jewish child by Roman Catholic conversionists. On the night of 23 June 1858, Edgardo Mortara, the six-year-old son of a Jewish family in Bologna, Italy, was abducted by the papal police and taken to Rome. The boy had been secretly and unlawfully baptized five years earlier by a Christian domestic servant, who thought he was about to die. The parents vainly attempted to get their child back, and the case caused a universal outcry. Young French Jews created the AIU two years later in the name of religious freedom.

The AIU's aim was to aid Jews and Judaismmainly in the Ottoman, Sharifian (Morocco), and Qajar (Iran) empiresin three ways. The first was to "work toward the emancipation and moral progress of the Jews." While it did not state that education was the basic motivation behind emancipation and moral progress, the first aim defined the educational sphere. Moral progress meant combating disease, poverty, and ignorance, and acculturating Jews in the tradition of French education. Therefore, the AIU established schools that taught Jews in Mediterranean-basin countries the concepts of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

The most important schools were created between 1862 and 1914 in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. The teachers dispatched to these countries were alumni of the AIU schools from the Ottoman EmpireSephardim trained in Paris at the AIU teacher-training center, the École Normale Israélite Orientale (ENIO). Although the French language was used in AIU schools, the AIU did not advocate total emulation of French culture, attempting to strike a balance between secular learning, embodying Western ideas, and the sacred education of Jewish communities.

The second goal, "lending effective support to all those who suffer because of their membership in the Jewish faith," referred to allocating funds to help Jews in distress outside Europe. More importantly, it included forging contacts with European leaders and their diplomatic representatives in countries where Jews were harassed. Further, it meant that the AIU had to alert the leaders of both the Middle East and North Africa when such injustice occurred, possibly wresting concessions from them to remedy the situation.

The third aim was to awaken Europe to the Jews' plight. It called for "encouraging all proper publications to bring an end to Jewish sufferings." Whereas the second category called for quiet negotiations and diplomatic action, the third stressed the utilization of AIU and other periodicals to influence public opinion. For example, it published the Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle (18601913) and Paix et Droit for this purpose, and utilized the French press and the London Jewish Chronicle to point out human rights violations, particularly in Iran and Morocco.

The AIU Central Committee in Paris obtained information on the abuses perpetrated against Jews in Muslim lands where it had schools through its personnel or regional committees. These forces also apprised local European consuls and plenipotentiaries about the abuses by regional governors and chieftains. The AIU Central Committee then brought the problems before the Foreign Office in London or the French Foreign Ministry in Paris, which in turn pressured the Ottoman Porte, the Qajar Shahs, and the Moroccan Makhzan to protect their Jewish subjects (dhimmas).

In terms of its educational influence, the AIU survived from the Ottoman and precolonial eras into the colonial period and beyondwell into the decolonization stage. In 1956 the AIU had 143 schools and approximately 51,000 students in Morocco, Iran, Tunisia, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. In 2000 the AIU had 73 schools, mostly in Israel, France, Morocco, Canada, Belgium, and Spain; the total number of AIU schools, or AIU-affiliated ones, exceeded 29,000. Until the 1960s most AIU schoolsprimary, secondary, and vocationalwere concentrated in the Muslim world; since then, school expansion has taken place in Israel, France, Canada, Spain, and Belgium. In the wake of Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union, the trend is to expand the schools in Europe and Israel. The AIU in France still helps to maintain the schools in the Muslim worldnotably in Morocco and Iranbecause Jewish communities continue to exist there despite attempted emigration to Europe, the Americas, or Israel. After 1997 plans were underway by the AIU, in conjunction with affluent Iranian Jews living in the United States, to open schools in the states of New York and California.

Since its inception, the AIU has been financed by membership fund-raising, conducted by the regional committees throughout the world. After World War I, however, as its school networks expanded in the Middle East, and especially in North Africa, a substantial portion of the AIU's budget was derived from the French government. Since the end of World War II, the AIU schools have also received subsidies from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which uses funds of the United Jewish Appeal.


Laskier, Michael M. The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Jewish Communities of Morocco: 18621962. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

Rodrigue, Aron. French Jews, Turkish Jews: The Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Politics of Jewish Schooling in Turkey, 18601925. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1990.

Simon, Rachel. "Education." In The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times, edited by Reeva Spector Simon, Michael Menachem Laskier, and Sara Reguer. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Michael M. Laskier

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Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU)

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Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU)