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 explores how Jews across the empire, including in Mandate Palestine, understood the changing and potentially conflicting relationships between British imperialism, Zionism, and anti-colonial (trans) nationalisms. The consideration of the many possible fates of the British Empire—spanning from the persistence of imperial rule to the triumph of anti-colonial political movements—was central to the ways both Zionists and non-Zionists in the interwar period imagined Jewish political futures, including statist and non-statist visions. Navigating the empire amidst this shifting, unstable landscape, produced a range of political behaviors, strategies, practices, and vocabularies, that upon first glance seem paradoxical. These ostensible contradictions and incongruities, however, 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 anti-colonial nationalisms.
Elizabeth Imber is Assistant Professor of History and the Michael and Lisa Leffell Chair in Modern Jewish History at Clark University. Her work explores the cultural and political dimensions and intersections of Jewish history and European imperial history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She previously held the Berger-Neilsen Endowed Chair of Judaic Studies at The College of Idaho. Imber is currently working on a book project, entitled Empire of Uncertainty: Jews, Zionism, and British Imperialism in the Age of Nationalism, 1917-1948.