Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Dr. Nicole Sackley
In the 1940s and early 1950s, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) sought to develop an international vision in response to a world in flux. This project represents the first attempt to triangulate the relationship between India, Israel, and Jewish-American civil society, employing the case of India as a means for understanding the way in which the AJC shaped its worldview in the decade after World War II. Although Americans had been in contact with India well before the war, the AJC brought with it a unique lens for constructing meaning out of a new postcolonial space. A variety of factors informed this viewpoint. Radical Jewish thinkers in New York represented an intellectual vanguard that inspired Jewish-American leadership during the early twentieth century. The legacy of the Holocaust and the rise of cosmopolitanism in its wake concentrated the AJC’s attention on the challenges of decolonization in the Global South. The foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 raised questions in regard to Jewish identity, but also opened up new opportunities for acting as a power broker in international affairs. And the emergence of the Cold War and the Red Scare placed new constraints on the nature of Jewish- American advocacy in all areas. A combination of geopolitical developments and domestic politics, at different times, expanded and contracted the domain of the AJC’s advocacy on the issue of India.
Chapter one explores the institutional history of the AJC, an elite organization that has demonstrated an interest in the wider world since its inception. As anti-Semitism rose domestically and abroad in the decades leading up to the Holocaust, the AJC became increasingly active in its interventions to protect Jews, making use of ideologies developed by radical Leftist thinkers in New York City. Chapter two examines the AJC’s responses to the dual births of India and Israel in 1947 and 1948. In the case of India, the AJC adopted a language of humanitarianism in order to discuss violence on the subcontinent. At the same time, the AJC envisioned itself as an important broker in the nascent Indo-Israeli relationship. Chapter three considers how the escalation of the Cold War after the summer of 1949 narrowed the capacity for the AJC to conceive of India in the same terms that it previously had. The need to maintain institutional viability would force the AJC to abandon its robust thinking on India.
This project draws on extensive primary sources collected from the AJC files housed in the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, in addition to several years of issues of Commentary magazine and the writings of influential actors such as Jawaharlal Nehru. Through close, contextual readings of these works, the project uncovers extensive interest on the part of the AJC in relation to India. The AJC sought to increase its political capital by framing itself as a leader in the nascent Indo-Israeli relationship. In this vein, this work is one of the first to explain the AJC’s international vision beyond the question of Zionism in the 1940s and 1950s. The results of this investigation demonstrate how domestic political issues threatened institutional viability, in what would prove to be the decisive factor in determining the capacity of the organization to act, especially after 1949. Finally, this paper seeks to contribute to the existing historiography by suggesting the need for the consideration of more complex relationships between state and non-state actors.
McEvoy, Ryan Charles, "From New York to the world : the American Jewish Committee and the meaning of India, 1945-1956" (2017). Honors Theses. 989.