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Negotiating Jewish Rights Between International Ideals and National Constraints, 1848-1968

Tue, December 18, 12:45 to 2:15pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 1 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel seeks to address the long history of Jewish rights activism in a variety of European political contexts. The four papers explore the unique challenges and successes of legal models for securing and defending Jewish rights in the diaspora, including the equality before the law of all individuals, regardless of race or creed, that Western European Jewish diplomacy attempted to export to the Balkans in the second half of the 19th century; the evolution of Jewish autonomism and minority rights in interwar Lithuania; governmental movements whose conception of political authority was disconnected from the idea of territoriality; and the ways in which postwar Jewish activists saw the fight against antisemitism as part of the broader movement for human rights. The panelists will also examine the varying aims and vision of Jewish rights defenders as well as the legal tools they used depending on political context and place.
Noëmie Duhaut’s paper offers a chronological starting point for this panel, presenting the ideological origins of the first international Jewish organization, the Alliance Israélite Universelle. It focuses on the optimistic years – between the liberal promises of 1848 and the appearance of anti-Semitism as a political movement – in which the Alliance was founded and began its campaign for the rights of Jews in the Balkans. Michael Casper will present his research on the fate of Jewish rights discourse in the early years of Lithuania’s authoritarian regime of the late 1920s. Lithuanian Jewish political activists had looked to international treaties such as the Paris Declaration as their foundational documents of Jewish rights in the diaspora. The regime of Antanas Smetona, who came to power in 1926, brought a new set of demands to leaders of Lithuanian Jewry that strained the tension between Jews’ international commitments and how they positioned themselves vis-a-vis the Lithuanian state and ascendant ethnic Lithuanian nationalism. Moria Paz radically challenges current understandings of what the Alliance Israélite Universelle represented, especially in relation to the Zionist movement, and discusses the role international law played in the eventual success of territorial movements vis-a-vis non-territorial ones. Her talk first describes the Alliance’s strategy to disseminate these types of security. Secondly, it identifies specific changes in the international legal regime that ultimately undermined this transnational political strategy and normalized territorial forms of government instead. Claire Maligot will conclude this panel with her paper on the new type of Jewish advocacy that emerged after World War II, arguing that this Jewish contribution to the human rights movement represented a structural shift in the fight against anti-Semitism.

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