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Multiple Paths: The Emergence of Modern Jewish Politics in the Middle East and North Africa (1906-1947)

Tue, December 18, 10:15 to 11:45am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cambridge 1

Session Submission Type: Roundtable

Abstract

In the early twentieth century, Jews of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) forged a modern, indigenous set of paths in Jewish politics. Constitutional changes in the Ottoman Empire (1908) and Iran (1906-1911) and the emergence of reformist movements across French colonial North Africa between the wars produced new political opportunities for Jews. Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Jews engaged in a panoply of local and transnational politics. This activity included joining local communist and nationalist parties, spearheading trans-Mediterranean anti-racist coalitions, and pioneering nationalist music. Chaired by Julia Philips Cohen, this panel explores the latest scholarship on modern Jewish politics in the MENA before 1948. It is conceived as part one of a double session, paired with “Alternatives to Zionism in the post-48 era.”

This roundtable addresses three fundamental questions: first, in an age of increasing liberalism across the region, what specific changes enabled Jewish political participation? Second, how did MENA Jews balance multiple political paths in light of the growth of Zionism and anti-colonial nationalisms? Third, how might close study of modern Jewish politics as seen from the MENA allow for a global approach to twentieth century Jewish political history?

To answer these questions, Lior Sternfeld will discuss the case of Iranian Jews, who navigated the possibilities afforded by the Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911) and the pressures that attended the aftermath of the Balfour Declaration (1917). Murat Yıldız will focus on a similar period in Ottoman Istanbul, where a newly established Maccabi athletic club simultaneously aimed to foster “Jewish national sentiment” and fidelity to the Empire. Ethan Katz and Alma Heckman will speak about the International League Against Anti-Semitism (LICA). They will trace the respective paths of Algerian and Moroccan Jewish engagement with this international yet localized anti-racism coalition and how such involvement laid the groundwork for Algerian Jewish resistance and Moroccan Communist activism during World War II. Finally, Chris Silver will interrogate another path to modern Jewish politics in interwar North Africa: this time with an ear toward the nationalist song produced by Jewish musicians.

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