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  • Extraterritorial Dreams: European citizenship, Sephardi Jews and the Ottoman twentieth century by Sarah Abrevaya Stein
  • Aviva Ben-Ur
Extraterritorial Dreams: European citizenship, Sephardi Jews and the Ottoman twentieth century. By Sarah Abrevaya Stein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Extraterritorial Dreams explores the convoluted legal history of European protégé status and its consequences for Ottoman Jews and their descendants in the waning empire, and in twentieth-century Europe and its overseas colonies and protectorates, with particular attention to the interwar and wartime periods. Given its relative neglect by scholars of Jewish, colonial and legal studies, this coveted patent of protection merits some prefatory remarks.

Protégé status was a form of extraterritorial European citizenship granted to Ottoman subjects, most of whom had never set foot in the metropoles of the world's second smallest continent. However, this form of naturalization originated not in Europe, but in the Ottoman Empire, and was initially granted not to the empire's subjects, but rather to European foreigners residing on Ottoman soil. Originally bestowed upon European states by Ottoman rulers, this legal status was known to the former as capitulations (after the capitula or chapters comprising the document) and to the latter as ahdnameler (denoting "pledges," or "letters of promise") or imtiyazat ("privileges"). More specifically, the ahdnameler were implemented in the sixteenth century as arbitrarily rescindable and unilateral contracts conferred by the Sultan upon Europe's Christian monarchs. They were devised to circumvent sharia law, which banned recognition of non-Muslim political entities and their treatment as sovereign and equal. Nonreciprocal and, unless otherwise specified, temporally unbinding, the ahdnameler allowed non-Muslim foreigners to reside and conduct business in Ottoman territories and served the purpose of advancing imperial commerce and reinforcing political alliances with the West. Non-Muslim foreigners with protégé status in Ottoman lands enjoyed freedom of religion and movement, tax exemptions, immunity from local Islamic law, and jurisdiction by European consular courts.

Over time, however, under the pressure of European legal scholars, the ahdnameler took on the nature of bilateral treaties that significantly expanded the powers of the protégé. And, as a consequence of both migration and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, protected status spread beyond the empire's culminating borders, with increasing numbers of protégés appearing in successor states and elsewhere in Europe and its overseas colonies and protectorates. Eventually, even Muslims, including those living in the Russian Empire and proselytes to Islam, counted among recipients of European protected status. Curiously, neither the official abolition of the protégé system in 1914 by Mehmed V and again in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne, nor even the complete denaturalization of Jews during World War II, entirely extinguished the political force of the capitulatory regime. Much like the Ottoman Empire, the European expression of the ahdnameler outlived itself, whether in the hands of state officials or in the memories of the protected and their descendants, into the mid-twentieth century.

While historians and legal scholars have devoted most of their attention to early modern European protégés living and trading within Ottoman territory, and while Jewish historians have studied such protégés in a single European metropole or Ottoman or Middle Eastern urban setting, Sarah Abrevaya Stein is more interested in the expression of protected status for Jews living in a broad range of locales in the late nineteenth century and especially in the first half of the twentieth. The book is divided into four main chapters, respectively devoted to Salonika, late Ottoman Palestine/Syria, France and the British Empire. The last two chapters are revised versions of articles that appeared in the American Historical Review and Past and Present.

Extraterritorial Dreams is a landmark work that accomplishes precisely what it sets out to do. First and foremost, it broadens and complicates our understanding of the relationship of Jews to citizenship, which historians have typically envisioned within the framework of Jewish Emancipation, as an unevenly executed privilege and eventually inalienable right systematically conferred and sometimes retracted by metropolitan states, and first emerging in late eighteenth-century revolutionary Europe. Stein demonstrates how overseas consulates and Foreign Offices, in negotiation with Jewish applicants and...

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