The lively essays collected here explore colonial history, culture, and thought as it intersects with Jewish studies. Connecting the Jewish experience with colonialism to mobility and exchange, diaspora, internationalism, racial discrimination, and Zionism, the volume presents the work of Jewish historians who recognize the challenge that colonialism brings to their work and sheds light on the diverse topics that reflect the myriad ways that Jews engaged with empire in modern times. Taken together, these essays reveal the interpretive power of the "Imperial Turn" and present a rethinking of the history of Jews in colonial societies in light of postcolonial critiques and destabilized categories of analysis. A provocative discussion forum about Zionism as colonialism is also included.
About the Author
Ethan B. Katz is Associate Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati. He is author of The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France and the coeditor of Secularism in Question: Jews and Judaism in Modern Times.
Lisa Moses Leff is Professor of History at American University. She is author of Sacred Bonds of Solidarity: The Rise of Jewish Internationalism in Nineteenth-Century France (2006) and The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust (2015).
Maud S. Mandel is Professor of History and Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at Brown University. She is author of In the Aftermath of Genocide: Armenians and Jews in Twentieth-Century France (2003) andMuslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict (2014).
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Colonialism and the Jews
By Ethan B. Katz, Lisa Moses Leff, Maud S. Mandel
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2017 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ENGAGING COLONIAL HISTORY AND JEWISH HISTORY
Ethan B. Katz, Lisa Moses Leff, and Maud S. Mandel
Where are Jews in colonial history? Where is colonialism in Jewish history? In many ways, these unasked questions haunt contemporary Jewish and often world politics. Indeed, in the twenty-first century, the relationship between Jews and colonialism has been present in debates about not only Zionism but Jewish-Muslim relations, the wider Middle East, the future of European identity, and the aims and roots of American empire. And yet, typically, the subject of Jews and colonialism is hidden in plain sight, more polemicized or avoided than probed, let alone illuminated. If statesmen, activists, and pundits have difficulty addressing colonialism and the Jews, they are not alone. Until recently, scholars have offered little help.
Indeed, despite the recent outpouring of fruitful scholarly attention to modern colonialism, Jewish historians have been surprisingly reticent to explore the complex ways in which Jews interacted with nineteenth- and twentieth-century overseas empires. Prior to the early 2000s, most historians of European Jewry sidestepped the issue or ignored it altogether. Like most of their colleagues in the wider field of European history, many specialists in Jewish history saw nation-states, rather than empires, as the framework within which the great changes that characterized modern Jewish life took place. In addition, scholars of Jewish history were particularly resistant or late coming to many of the methodological developments that proved crucial to the so-called Imperial Turn. These included critiques of positivism and empiricism; attention to metanarrative and the subjectivity of archival sources; and an emphasis on language, reflecting the influence of Foucauldian ideas about the nexus of knowledge and power.
Undoubtedly, the greatest elephant in the room has been Zionism. During the very period in which postcolonial studies emerged, debates raged over the place of colonialism in the history of Zionism and the State of Israel. This rendered colonialism a veritable minefield for Jewish studies scholars. From the vantage point of postcolonial studies, Jews and colonialism frequently became reduced to polemics over Zionism, flattening the issue rather than taking account of its nuances.
In fact, the modern Jewish experience connects to the history of colonialism by virtue of a number of its central components: mobility and exchange, diaspora, internationalism, racial discrimination, and Zionism, to name but a few. Little wonder that specialists of Jews in North Africa and the Middle East, by contrast with those of Europe, have always made colonialism part of the stories they told. And yet there, too, early work tended not to interrogate the distinctive roles Jews played in colonial societies, economies, and politics. Rather, scholars often simply celebrated the impact of European colonialism by explicitly or implicitly depicting colonial rule as a harbinger of "progress" for non-European Jews, whether in the form of emancipation at European hands or Zionist migration to Palestine and then Israel. In this sense, earlier generations of scholars tended to work within the linear narrative of modernization that characterized the field of European Jewish history, in which colonized Jews became increasingly "modern" by virtue of their contact with Europeans. Such work typically saw colonialism's role in Jewish history and Jews' role in colonial history as a "gentler" one, that is, distinctively benevolent in the scheme of the broader history of European colonialism. Even when these historians revealed a colonial society far more complex than they explicitly recognized, they generally overlooked the ambiguities of colonial Jewish life.
In failing to grapple with colonialism, Jewish historians disregarded essential dimensions of the modern Jewish experience. In European colonies from the British antipodes to French North Africa, Jewish economic, religious, and social life was transformed in important ways by the encounter with empire. Moreover, the effects of empire were as important in metropolitan Europe as they were in the colonies. As explored in this introduction and exemplified in the chapters that follow, a handful of scholars have taken Frederick Cooper and Ann Stoler's dictum that "Europe was made by its imperial projects, as much as colonial encounters were shaped by conflicts within Europe itself," as a spur to new approaches to Jewish history. They have begun to explore the multifaceted ways in which European Jews engaged with empire. Their studies reveal that Jewish modernization was not, in fact, simply an effect of the Jewish encounter with the nation-state, as was long assumed. Rather, the encounter with imperialism — its legal forms, its economic structures, and its cultural and intellectual underpinnings — shaped the contours of European Jewish modernization as well.
This book is inspired by what appears to be the start of a "Jewish Imperial Turn." The book's contributors — scholars in Jewish, European, and Middle Eastern history — have, from their different vantage points, all thought critically about the interpretive potential of bringing the study of colonialism and the study of Jewish history to bear upon one another. Such work yields new insights beyond Jewish history. In recent years, scholars of imperialism have focused on revealing and making sense of the contradictions at the heart of modern European empires. The imperial ventures of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain, France, and Germany were highly inegalitarian, characterized by violent conquest, exploitation of resources, and subjugation of peoples. Yet they were frequently undertaken in the name of the universalist values of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and modern liberalism. These warrants cannot be dismissed as mere hypocrisy; rather, they reveal the formative contradictions that helped to shape modern European political cultures. Indeed, debates over imperialism were critical for shaping Europeans' understanding of the universal principles by which polities should be organized, such as popular sovereignty, the primacy of the nation-state, and the pursuit of the public good. Such debates were also sites for defining how far universalist principles should extend, and the criteria by which some groups would be included and others excluded (e.g. race, religion, gender, and wealth). The fundamental contradictions at the heart of modern European imperialism — and Jews' frequent place in the crosshairs — have also animated much of the new scholarship on Jews and empire. In many ways, this work challenges scholars to question some of their fields' most basic assumptions and categories of analysis.
We center our discussion on France and its empire. Some of the reasons for this focus are historical. As the seat of the French Revolutionary tradition and a vast global empire, France offers a particularly important instance of the paradoxes of inclusion and exclusion. Furthermore, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, France's Jewish population was as significant in its colonies as it was in the metropole. By the late 1940s, there were nearly half a million Jews total in French Morocco (250,000), Tunisia (100,000), and Algeria (140,000), a number that dwarfed not only mainland France's postwar Jewish population of a quarter million but also the pre-war peak of 330,000/ Moreover, Jews played an important role in shaping France's imperial history in both metropole and colony. There are historiographical reasons for this focus as well. In recent decades, scholarship in French and French imperial history has been dramatically reshaped by the Imperial Turn. Correspondingly, French Jewish historians have found the new directions particularly fruitful, and historians of French colonialism have begun to give greater attention to Jews.
But this volume looks well beyond the francophone sphere. Our comparative approach places essays treating diverse regions alongside one another, providing the opportunity to isolate what was unique in each setting and to identify themes and patterns that crossed national and imperial borders. To this end, our chapters tell stories that span six continents. The comparative lens pushes us to consider how transnational and nonnational factors, including not only colonialism but also international organizations and transregional economic connections, shaped Jewish modernity. In turn, it permits us to reflect upon the ways in which Jews shaped those larger systems as well.
Why Jewish Historians Need the Imperial Turn
As the essays in this volume show, the Imperial Turn has begun to transform our understanding of modern Jewish history in important ways. For too long, European Jewish historians remained wedded to a theory of Jewish modernization, first explicitly articulated by Salo Wittmayer Baron and later popuiarized by Hannah Arendt, that depicted the nation-state as the key political formation that shaped modernization for Jews everywhere. The enduring power of this perspective is clear in studies that trace the different "paths of emancipation" that Jews followed in various European nation-states. Indeed, in spite of the variety and complexity of Jewish experiences they have described, Jewish historians have nonetheless largely agreed that the assimilationist demands of liberal nation-states shaped the paths of Jews' transformation in the modern world, which led (albeit in different ways and following different timelines) from communal autonomy to increased political, sociocultural, and economic integration.
Much of this scholarship has treated France as paradigmatic. For the revolutionaries who emancipated the Jews, Rousseauian logic dictated that there could be no legal distinctions among members of the nation. This meant that gaining political rights was predicated on the legal dissolution of Jews' semiautonomous corporate bodies and the minimizing of their social and cultural differences from other Frenchmen. In much early historiography, emancipation was thus depicted as leading to the full abandonment of a distinctive public Jewish identity in exchange for inclusion in the national community. Subsequent scholarship challenged portrayals of modernization as leading toward the complete absorption of Jews into their wider national contexts, stressing instead the multiple "paths to, of, and from emancipation." As they rejected a single story of assimilation, scholars sought greater nuance by employing notions of "acculturation," "integration," and the development of Jewish "subcultures." Even this scholarship, however, rarely challenged the primacy of the nation-state in driving the social, cultural, political, and economic transformations of Jewish life in Europe.
For the Jewish historians who saw the French model as normative, the experiences of Jews in the Hahshurg and Russian empires represented, all too often, cases of delayed or even failed modernization. But by the 1990s a growing rejection of modernization theory across the disciplines led Jewish historians to question the one-size-fits-all approach to the history of Jewish modernization as well, leading away from these stark conceptions. Part of this shift, still ongoing, has involved recognizing that in Eastern European Jewish history, change unfolded within the framework of empire rather than the liberal nation-state. New studies have revealed that the Hahshurg and Tsarist empires treated minorities in a different manner than nation-states. Indeed, both tended on some level to cultivate rather than destroy diversity in order to rule more effectively, and these empires were often predicated on the inequality rather than the equality of the governed. Thinking of modernization as an imperial rather than national project has proven a productive framework for understanding Eastern Europe, where rights were granted to Jews by enlightened monarchs with a vested interest in ruling through the institutions of religious, ethnic, and national minorities rather than in dissolving them. In this way the notion that the nation-state represents the key political formation for understanding modern Jewish history has been substantially revised, and we now find ourselves in a moment where we have multiple models, a nation-state framework still treated as generally applicable in Western Europe, and an imperial framework that applies to Eastern Europe.
But these two models may he less different than we once thought. France, too, was an empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As an overseas empire, it has generally been considered distinct from the multiethnic land-based empires referred to earlier, because its colonies were far from the metropole and ruled with separate legal regimes. The presumed distance and separation between colonies and metropole long allowed French and French Jewish historians to imagine a republic based solely on the integrationist model of the modern nation-state. Yet Imperial Turn historiography has shown that even metropolitan France was, from the time of the Revolution, never simply a nation-state committed to the eradication of difference in the name of political equality. It was always also an empire, or, as Gary Wilder calls it, "an imperial nation-state." As such, it was governed by two different logics that were in many ways at odds with one another yet nonetheless coexisted and even fed off each other in important ways. Works like Wilder's that examine France's republic and empire in a common frame have shown that modern France embraced not only universalism hut also particularism; not only an ideology of equality hut also an ideology of inequality predicated on racial and religious difference; not only liberalism hut also, and no less fundamentally, illiberalism. The paradox of the simultaneous embrace of two contradictory sets of ideas is not resolved by assigning one set to the empire and the other to the metropole; in fact, both tendencies within French political culture were present in both settings.
By recognizing that the very nation-state that emancipated the Jews was always also an empire, a handful of scholars — many of them among those contributing to the present volume — have begun to explore the role that empire played in the history of the Jews of France and other colonial metropoles, such as Great Britain and Germany. Such recognition suggests that it is time to rethink the sharp contrast between Western Europe, where Jews lived in nation-states, and Eastern Europe, where they lived in empires. Extending this thinking to French Jewish history specifically and European Jewish history more generally allows us to return with new eyes to some of the fundamental paradoxes that scholars of Jewish modernization have long recognized, providing new ways to understand how and why throughout modern European history, two logics regarding the Jews developed simultaneously: on the one hand, a universalist, assimilating, and egalitarian rhetoric, and on the other, a logic of particularism, difference, and inequality.
As our frame of reference shifts, so too does our understanding of the key terms that shaped the paradigm of Jewish modernization. For example, scholars have long recognized a connection between the secular Enlightenment and the Jewish Haskalah, with recent work even going so far as to show a reciprocal relationship between them. Moving to the larger framework of the imperial nation-state focuses our attention on the concept of the "civilizing mission," a term related to the Enlightenment notion of "regeneration." The work of Jay Berkovitz and Alyssa Sepinwall illuminates the importance of the latter concept for both wider French and internal Jewish debates about the process and meaning of emancipation. Pushing beyond the boundaries of mainland France, Lisa Moses Left, Joshua Schreier, and Michael Shurkin have emphasized how for French administrators and Jewish leaders alike, the question of regeneration was vital in assessing possibilities and implementing measures for Jews in French Algeria and the wider Francophone orbit. The civilizing mission, although decidedly less egalitarian-minded than regeneration, was a concept every bit as central to European Jewish self-understanding, politics, and philanthropy in the era of imperialism.
A new imperial frame for Jewish history also highlights the multifaceted meanings of the concepts of the "Orient" and the "oriental." Sometimes the image of the Oriental was one that European Jews as diverse as Benjamin Disraeli and Abraham Geiger proudly embraced to distinguish themselves from their non-Jewish neighbors. At other times, the Oriental was a trope European Jews disavowed and applied strictly to "Others" in order to bring themselves closer to gentiles in Europe. This was, for example, the case with the Russian Jewish ethno grapher Nahum Slouschz's depiction of North African Jews, and in many French Jewish writings that distinguished Algerian Jews from their Muslim neighbors. For all its many-sided meanings, the term proved as central to Jewish modernization as to European discourse more broadly.
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Table of Contents
1. Ethan Katz, Lisa Leff, Maud Mandel, "Introduction: Engaging Colonial History and Jewish History"
Part I: Subjects and Agents of Empire
2. Colette Zytnicki, "The ‘Oriental Jews’ of the Maghreb: Re-inventing the North African Jewish Past in the Colonial Era"
3. Susannah Heschel, "The Rise of German Imperialism and the German Jewish Engagement in Islamic Studies"
4. Adam Mendelsohn: "Not the Retiring Kind: Jewish Colonials in England in the mid-19th Century"
5. Frances Malino, "Oriental, Feminist, Orientalist: The New Jewish Woman"
6. Israel Bartal, "Jews in the Crosshairs of Empire: A Franco-Russian Comparison"
Part II: Jews in Colonial Politics
7. Ethan B. Katz: "Crémieux’s Children: Joseph Reinach, Léon Blum, and René Cassin as Jews of French Empire
8. Tara Zahra: "Zionism, Emigration, and East European Colonialism"
9. David Feldman: "Zionism and the British Labor Party"
10. Daniel Schroeter: "Vichy in Morocco: The Residency, Mohammed V and his Indigenous Jewish Subjects"
11. Maud Mandel, "The Politics of Street Riots:Anti-Jewish Violence in Tunisia before Decolonization"
Part III: Zionism and Colonialism
12. Derek J. Penslar, "Is Zionism a Colonial Movement?" from Israel in History: the Jewish State in Comparative Perspective. NY: Routledge, 2006. Reprinted with permission.
13. Joshua Cole, "Derek Penslar’s ‘Algebra of Modernity’: How Should We Understand the Relation between Zionism and Colonialism?"
14. Elizabeth F. Thompson, "Moving Zionism to Asia: Texts and Tactics of Colonial Settlement, 1917-1921"
15. Derek J. Penslar, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Colonialism: A Response to Joshua Cole and Elizabeth Thompson"
List of Contributors
What People are Saying About This
This important volume raises questions that only come up when views from several different research traditions are juxtaposed: in this case Jewish history with 'general history' and also issues linking Jewish history in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. . . . The contributors are recognized scholars in their respective fields.
This nuanced and thoughtful collection opens up the study of Jews and colonialism, for the first time, to comprehensive scholarly scrutiny. Building on much new work on North Africa and the Middle Eastand drawing on British, French, German, Polish and Russian sourcesthe volume addresses head-on the disputable place of Jews in colonial history and of colonialism in Jewish history. The collection complicates the usual position of seeing Jews as archetypal “in-between” figuresboth colonial and colonizedby understanding Jews (and other racialized groups) as both the subjects and agents of empire, and as being actively involved in local and global colonial and anticolonial politics. Colonialism and the Jews is an essential intervention in a contentious subject area that hitherto has generated more heat than light.
This extraordinary volume brings together some of the deepest thinkers working in the fields of colonialism and Jewish history today, to wrestle not simply with the old canard of whether colonialism was 'good' or 'bad' for the Jews, but rather with more contemporary and elusive concerns like the distinction between colonial discourse and practice, the liminal spaces between colonizer and colonized, and how different forms of imperialism are experienced on the ground vs. in the metropoles.