Jewish Political Lives in the British Empire: Zionism, Nationalism, and Imperialism in Palestine, India, and South Africa, 1917-1939
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This dissertation analyzes the multifaceted nature of Jewish politics in the British Empire during the rise of anticolonial national and transnational political movements. Though Jews in all modern empires grappled variously with imperial policies and burgeoning nationalisms, Jews in the British Empire after 1917 faced the unique situation of living under the power that controlled Palestine, the territory at the heart of Jewish political, cultural, and religious aspirations both in and beyond the empire. This project investigates how Jewish elites from three imperial sites—Mandate Palestine, India, and South Africa—understood the changing and potentially conflicting relationships between British imperialism, Zionism, and anticolonial (trans)nationalisms. The project asks how these forces shaped Jewish loyalties, feelings of national belonging, and visions of political futures. It argues that a consideration of the many possible fates of the British Empire—spanning from the persistence of imperial rule to the triumph of anticolonial political movements—was central to the ways both Zionists and non-Zionists imagined Jewish political futures in the interwar period. This negotiation of any number of potential outcomes produced a range of political behaviors, strategies, practices, and vocabularies that upon first glance seem paradoxical. This project shows that these ostensible contradictions and incongruities were in fact all part of a broad, shared horizon of uncertainty—uncertainty over Jewish national futures and uncertainty over British imperial futures amidst the rise of anticolonial nationalisms. By closely examining the lives of Jewish elites in the empire, this project uncovers how modern Jewish politics took shape not only in formal political venues but also—and even more so—in quotidian practices, convivial spaces, and affective ties. It reveals how Zionist and non-Zionist Jews in the interwar period imagined Jewish political futures as both interdependent on and in opposition to British imperialism, and as part of broader modern narratives both of empire and colonization, and of national deliverance and self-determination. The first study to consider Jewish politics in a multi- site British imperial context, Jewish Political Lives in the British Empire yields important new insight into modern Jewish history, British imperial history, and the history of Israel/Palestine.