In Pursuit of Political Imagination: Reflections on Diasporic Jewish History

Julie E. Cooper


In recent years, scholars of Jewish politics have invested political
hopes in the revival of “political imagination.” If only we could
recapture some of the imaginativeness that early Zionists displayed
when wrestling with questions of regime design, it is argued, we
might be able to advance more compelling “solutions” to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Yet how does one cultivate political imagination?
Curiously, scholars who rehearse the catalogue of regimes that
Jews have historically entertained seldom pose this question. In this
Article, I revisit a historical episode—the appropriation of diasporic
historical narratives by Zionists in mandatory Palestine—in an effort
to cultivate a richer political imaginary. I analyze the labor Zionist
deployment of Simon Dubnow’s influential master narrative, focusing
on a 1926 speech in which David Ben Gurion depicts the autonomist
regime that he advocates as a variation upon diasporic political
practices. On my reading, this episode illustrates the dilemmas that
confront thinkers who invest political hopes in regime design. To
realize the promise that new political confgurations may emerge
from reflections upon Jewish history, I argue, we must develop a
new account of political agency, once foundational assumptions of
the nation-state have been suspended.

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