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 Israeli-Palestinian 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 configurations 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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