Albert-Abraham Antébi (Hebrew: אלברט אברהם ענתבי; born 1873 Damascus – died 1919 Constantinople) was a Jewish public activist and communitary leader born in Ottoman Syria, who worked for the defense of the interests of the Jewish old and new settlement in Palestine during the Ottoman rule, especially in the realm of education, philanthropy and estate, as representative of the Alliance israélite universelle and of the Jewish Colonization Association founded by Baron Hirsch. Was engineer and teacher as professional formation.
Son of the Jewish sefardic community of Damascus, he was the scion of an old Jewish family. His grandfather, rabbi Jacob Antebi, had been one of the victims of the infamous Blood Libel associated with the Damascus Affair. After learning the craft of blacksmith at an Alliance professional school in Rue de Rosiers in the Marais - Paris' historic Jewish quarter, he studied engineering at the Écoles d'arts et métiers in province - at Châlons-en-Champagne, and Angers. In 1896 came in Palestine where he received an appointment as director of the Jerusalem professional school of the Alliance israélite universelle, a position he held until 1913. He was throughout his life a passionate francophile, and subscribed to the ideal of the Jewish emancipation under the Turkish rule and French cultural and political influence.
His fluency in French, Hebrew, Arabic and English, combined with his mastery of three or four different systems of law – Beth Din, Sharia, French Law, Ottoman Law, proved invaluable in assisting the early Jewish settlement in Palestine. In this regard, he was a key intermediary between Lord Rothschild and Arab notables in brokering the purchase of land for Jewish immigrants to the Rothschild settlements in Ottoman Palestine. He was held in high regard by several families of Arab notables, such as the Husayni, the Khalidi and the Nashashibi, with whom he negotiated land purchases. He cooperated closely with the Hovevei Zion movement.
Antébi however was opposed to the political Zionist project as developed by Theodor Herzl and his movement, regarding it as a threat to the slow incremental development of a Jewish homeland. He disliked the idleness of many European immigrants, and thought their growing, subsidized presence in Palestine risked provoking an antisemitic reaction throughout the Ottoman world. Indeed he regarded the publicity surrounding Zionism as responsible for the rise of antisemitism in the Holy Land, and advised a strategy of silence if emigration were to continue without arousing local resistance. As early as 1901 he wrote:'Zionism has been created, its leaders say, in order to tighten the bonds of Judaism: the only result has been to stimulate the birth of struggles between (different) nationalities'. He described his own labours in building up a renewed Jewish presence in the Holy Land in the following terms:
'I desire to achieve the conquest of Zion by economic means, not politically; the Jerusalem I would cherish is the Jerusalem of history and the spirit, not the modern temporal Jerusalem. I want to be a Jewish deputy in an Ottoman parliament, and not in the Jewish temple of Mount Moriah. Ottoman Jews should have the same rights, responsibilities and hopes as the Jews of England, Germany and France. I wish to create powerful Jewish economic centres embedded in universal democracies. I do not wish to be a subject of a Judean autocracy.'
In the First World War he served on the front line in the Caucasus in 1917, where he became acquainted with General Mustafa Kemal. On the eve of that war he wrote that Palestine would be the last province to be taken from Turkey. Political and commercial considerations suggested that control over the area would accrue to France and England. He feared that the high numbers of German and Russian immigrants would secure for those nations a powerful influence that would deal a mortal blow to the eventual securing of a Jewish majority. He died, aged 45, of typhus, in Constantinople, while engaged in directing a large rescue and repatriation operation. In his testament, he expressed the hope that Palestine would develop along the lines of the Swiss cantonal system, under an interallied protectorate or French-English condominium, which would allocate lands without proprietors to immigrants, while keeping the country free of German and Russian communists.
- 'If our Israelites pursue the end and not the appearance, they must move through progressive colonisation to arrive at an administrative and, at the same time, political, preponderance' (Si nos Israélites poursuivent le but et non la teinte, ils devraient passer par la colonisation progressive pour arriver à la prépondérance administrative et même politique). Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873-1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres., Letter of 11 July 1909
- Letter of 19 August 1908, cited Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873-1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres.. Cf.'Believe me, all the Arab race from Baghdad to Yemen, is prepared to tolerate a fresh outburst of Jewish economic activity, but will prove to be savage in the face of an allocation to our coreligionists of a certain political equality - not to say autonomy' (Croyez-moi, toute cette race arabe, depuis Bagdad jusqu’au Yémen, tolèrerait la recrudescence de l’activité juive économique, mais serait féroce devant l’attribution même d’une certaine égalité - je ne dis pas autonomie - politique de nos coreligionnaires. Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873-1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres., Letter of 11 July 1909.
- 'If Zionists really did desire (effective) action, then they would stop talking and adopt (a policy of) silence. They've already bred antisemitism, and will now make a Jewish question for us'(Si les sionistes voulaient réellement l’action, ils renonceraient à la parole et adopteraient le silence. Ils ont engendré déjà l’antisémitisme, ils nous créeront la question juive). Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873-1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres., Letter of 13 Septembre 1909
- 'On a créé le sionisme, soi-disant pour resserrer les liens du Judaïsme ; on n’a réussi qu’à faire naître les luttes de nationalités.' letter of 29 December 1901, cited Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873-1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres.
- 'Je veux faire la conquête de Sion économiquement et non politiquement, je veux chérir la Jérusalem historique et spirituelle et non la Jérusalem moderne et temporelle, je veux être un député juif au Parlement Ottoman et non dans le Temple hébraïque de Moriah. Les Juifs ottomans doivent avoir les mêmes droits, devoirs et aspirations que les Juifs anglais, allemands et français. Je veux créer des agglomérations juives puissantes et économiques noyées dans les démocraties universelles, je ne veux pas être sujet d’une autocratie judéenne'Letter of 4 August 1908, cited Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873-1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres.,
- Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873-1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres., Letter of April 1913
- Elizabeth Antébi, Albert Antébi (1873–1919) ou la religion de la France. Lettres
- Elizabeth Antébi, L’homme du Sérail, NiL, 1996
- Media related to Albert Antébi at Wikimedia Commons