‘Israel has no right to demand explanations; we’re a sovereign state,” Argentine
Foreign Minister Hector Timerman reportedly fumed during his summoning of the
Israeli ambassador last week.
“Israel doesn’t speak in the name of the
Jewish people and doesn’t represent it,” he continued.
“Jews who wanted
or want to live in Israel moved there, and they are its citizens; those who live
in Argentina are Argentine citizens. The attack was against Argentina, and
Israel’s desire to be involved in the issue only gives ammunition to
anti-Semites who accuse Jews of dual loyalty.”
Timerman was referring to
Israel’s concerns over Argentina’s recent deal with Iran to establish a “truth
commission” over the 1994 bombing of an Argentine Jewish community center. That
attack bore such a striking resemblance to the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing in
Buenos Aires that both Israeli and Argentine intelligence are certain they were
both carried out by Iran-backed Hezbollah, and Argentine prosecutors have
formally accused six Iranians of coordinating the 1994 community center attack,
one of the six being Iran’s current minister of defense.
brings to the fore the odious charge of “dual loyalty,” which is almost
exclusively targeted at the Jews. And this story speaks to many common
misconceptions about Jewishness and Zionism that so many people seem to
It reminds me of the argument employed by various groups, including
the Palestine Liberation Organization, that Jews are a solely religious grouping
and as such have no national claims. Or the foundational belief of the Reform
Judaism movement of old – since jettisoned – that, in order to live full and
productive lives in the Diaspora, the Jews must shed the ethnic/national aspect
of their identity and their religion, and simply become German or American or
Argentine citizens who happen to practice a religion called
These kinds of views are wishful projections and do not
accurately reflect the history of the Jewish people, and the Reform movement’s
embrace of Zionism is one consequence of this.
It is true that the Jews
are sui generis; they cannot easily be lumped in with any other group. As such,
it is easy to be suspicious of overtly nationalistic claims on the Jews’
But it is a matter of historical record that the Jews, following
exile from their homeland in the first century of the Common Era, remained much
more than just a religious group.
THERE WAS great wisdom in the rabbinic
transformation of the Jewish nation’s religious tradition from a national,
centralized, Temple-based worship to a portable, decentralized, synagogue-based
worship. This was undoubtedly the key to the survival of the Jews following the
Nevertheless, Jerusalem and the land of Israel remained
central to the Jewish people and their faith. It is no coincidence that Jews
have always prayed three times a day in the direction of the Temple in Jerusalem
– this is not an invention of modern Zionism. Nor is the fact that, in their
long exile, the Jews prayed daily and at festivals for a return to Israel and
Jerusalem, or that Jews have traditionally regarded living outside of Israel as
“galut,” meaning diaspora or exile.
The Jews have thus been a distinct
ethno-religious/national group with a common language for several
Much like any number of such groups – which have diaspora
populations – that exist today.
There are ethnic Germans, Armenians,
Hungarians, Palestinians, Czechs, Croatians, Bulgarians, and a plethora of other
ethno-national groups who live outside of their ancestral homeland and yet are
eligible (or claim eligibility) to a right of return.
It would not be
unusual for an ethnic German to consider himself German despite not living in
the borders of modern- day Germany or holding German citizenship. And he has a
right to claim citizenship in Germany, simply by virtue of his ethno-national
Greece, to take another example, offers citizenship to a wide
array of people who can show “Greek ancestry.” It is completely uncontroversial
for a Greek Australian living in Melbourne, the city with the third-largest
number of Greek speakers after Athens and Thessaloniki, to visit Greece,
consider himself Greek, to enjoy his connection with Greece and even to hold
dual Greek-Australian citizenship. Nobody accuses him of dual loyalty, nor
Dozens of countries have similar ethnically-based
Why is it so controversial for a person of Jewish descent
to have the same relationship with the Jewish state? Why do Hector Timerman, and
so many of his fellow Hebrews around the world, feel such discomfort with their
Hebrew identity and its connection with the Hebrew nation-state? Is Timerman
equally prone to frothing at the mouth about the enormous influence of the Saudi
and Arab lobby on American policy in Washington, DC? Is that “dual loyalty?”
What if someone blew up a Turkish community center in Buenos Aires – would the
irascible Timerman find himself equally convulsed if Turkey expressed interest
in the matter? Would he claim that ethnic Turks might as a result be subject to
the charge of “dual loyalty?”
Here’s yet another example of the double standard
when it comes to Jews and the phony “dual loyalty” charge: the constitution of
the Greeks, inventors of democracy, recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the
“prevailing” religion of the state.
Despite my own preference for a much
stronger separation between religion and state in Israel, it is difficult to
escape the fact that the special place of Greek Orthodoxy enshrined in their
constitution causes not a bit of the navel-gazing and self-flagellation Jews
experience over the special place that the national religion of the Jews,
Judaism, has in the state of the Jews, Israel. Why is that?
IT MAY not surprise
you to know that Timerman himself is Jewish, and that his father was saved by
the direct intervention of the Israeli ambassador in the 1980s from political
imprisonment by the right-wing Argentinian military junta. It doesn’t require an
advanced psychology degree to draw conjectures about Timerman’s knee-jerk
reaction in this case.
But it’s not just Timerman.
Why are only
Jews subject to this offensive charge of “dual loyalty” so frequently? Well, the
Jews are the only group of people to have been evicted from their homeland and
returned thousands of years later to reclaim it. This no doubt confuses people.
And perhaps it is also confusing that the name of the state, Israel, differs
from the name of its dispersed people, the Jews. Perhaps it would have been
simpler if the state had been called something like, “Judea,” or if Jews today
called themselves instead, “Israelites.”
Perhaps then the relationship
would be clearer. But the underlying reality of Jewish identity would be the
But while there is no doubt some confusion due to the unique
history of the Jews, the answer is probably more banal: an element of
self-loathing in individuals like Timerman, and a double standard for Jews that
is at best ignorant and in many or even most cases a kind of veiled
The Israeli ambassador to Argentina reportedly told
Timerman, “As the Jewish state, Israel views itself as responsible to some
degree for the welfare of [all] Jews and tracks anti-Semitism
Therefore, it helped Jews leave the Soviet Union, brought Jews
from Ethiopia and, at times, also helped Jews in Argentina. You surely know what
I’m talking about.”
Timerman, despite the Jewish state stepping in to
save his Jewish father, chooses to willfully ignore what the Israeli ambassador
is talking about.
The rest of us ought not to. We ought not alter our
behavior based on the totally illegitimate charge of “dual loyalty,” that is
almost exclusively hurled against us as Jews. We ought to be openly contemptuous
of such allegations, and we must begin to call out the odious double standard
that this phenomenon represents.
The writer was the English Campaign
Coordinator for the Israeli Labor Party during the recent election campaign, and
former Public Affairs Director for Bob Bernstein's New York-based NGO, Advancing
Human Rights. He lives in Tel Aviv.