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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 talk, based on Imber’s book project, Uncertain Empire: Jews, Palestine, and the Fate of British Imperialism, explores how Zionist leaders from Palestine understood developments from across the British Empire—particularly in India—to be critical to Jewish futures in Mandate Palestine. In preparing for a range of possible British imperial fates (spanning from the persistence of imperial rule to the triumph of anti-colonial political movements), Zionists understood the future of the Yishuv and Palestine, the question of British mandatory policy, and the matter of Jewish-Palestinian Arab relations to be part of a much broader British imperial dynamic. This talk will show how trans-imperial ventures and relationships shaped diverse Zionist visions of nationhood (including dominion status, federative and binational models, and the independent nation-state as an ideal) and, what is more, depended on an equally diverse coterie of Jewish political actors (among them Zionists and non-Zionists from Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and Africa).
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Elizabeth Imber is Assistant Professor of History and the Leffell Chair in Modern Jewish History at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her work examines the intersections of Jewish history and European imperial history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a particular focus on the history of Zionism and Jewish nationalism; investigating and theorizing non-Zionism; Mandate Palestine; and the relationship between politics and everyday life. She is currently completing her first book project, tentatively entitled “Uncertain Empire: Jews, Palestine, and the Fate of British Imperialism, 1917-1948.”