(photo credit: AP)
I am proud to be an American. One hundred years ago the United States provided a safe haven for my ancestors who were escaping pogroms and poverty in czarist Russia. My father fought in the US Army as an infantry sergeant against the Nazi peril. I studied comparative religion and history at Columbia University in New York, an Ivy League school that would not have accepted me in the 1920s due to quotas against Jewish enrollment . My country affords me the right to express my Jewish identity and faith, giving me the freedom to stand up for who I am. The US is the leader of the free world. Why shouldn't I be proud of being an American?
Watching the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I was of course impressed with the American system of government that gives the son of an immigrant the opportunity to lead one of the world's great and diverse nations. It always amazes me how the transition of power is carried out here - democratically and peacefully. The system set in place by America's founding fathers more than 200 years ago has assured the vitality and relevance of US democracy into the 21st century.
Yet, while America is a land of opportunity and justice, there is not always justice for all Americans. I am thinking specifically of Jonathan Pollard. I was disappointed that outgoing president George W. Bush did not pardon Pollard for his treasonous acts of more than two decades ago. The FBI arrested Pollard in November 1985. A 31-year-old American Jew, Pollard was a civilian employee of US Naval Intelligence who provided Israeli spies with classified American satellite data on the location of Syrian antiaircraft batteries and of Iraqi nuclear test sites.
The Reagan administration, reeling from other espionage scandals, came down hard on Pollard and, in March 1987, an American court sentenced him to life in prison. It is not a question of Pollard's guilt or innocence - Jonathan Pollard betrayed his country. But does he truly deserve to be imprisoned for life? Was the information he gave to Israel - a staunch American ally - as damaging as information that other American traitors handed over to our enemies?
MOST AMERICAN Jews, as loyal supporters as they are of Israel, would never have betrayed this great country like Pollard did. But the Pollard Affair raises many questions about the specter of dual loyalty among American Jews. It is obvious that Pollard did not truly believe he was betraying his country. As an American Jew, I have lived my whole life hearing the mantra that "the interests of America are the interests of Israel." Fortunately, we, as Jews in America, have been protected from charges of dual loyalty precisely because the American dream and the Zionist dream share so much in common.
Perhaps Pollard thought that by helping Israel fight its enemies, he was helping America fight its enemies. In the post-9/11 world, America and Israel are indeed fighting the common enemy of global terrorism and Islamic extremists. But let us imagine that a day will come in America when US and Israeli goals are not the same. I do not see that day coming soon, yet in theory all American Jews who love and support Israel are faced with the specter of dual allegiance. What would we do if in a future conflict our country was in direct opposition to the Jewish state?
PERHAPS POLLARD never read the wonderful letter of support that George Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island after the first president's visit to the Touro Synagogue in August 1790. Washington wrote that all Americans "possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship" - Jews would no longer be a tolerated "class of people." The American government would "give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."
Of course, this newfound freedom is not offered freely. If Jews are to be citizens with full equality under the law they must "demean [conduct] themselves as good citizens." Did not Jonathan Pollard realize this when he was committing acts of treason against America?
Legally, American Jews are Americans first. Their belief and identity as Jews is a private matter, one of free choice and volunteerism. The word "Jew" is not stamped on my passport. I have no legal status in America as a Jew. I am an American. As long as I remain an American citizen, my legal identity is that of my nation. If, for some reason, there were to be a conflict between my legal status as an American and my private status as a Jew and a Zionist, my loyalty as an American would come first. If I did not believe this, I might fall into Pollard's trap. Jonathan Pollard should have realized that as much as Israel and the US have in common in terms of long-term goals, the first allegiance of an American Jew is to America - not to the Jewish state.
THE POLLARD AFFAIR should serve as a reminder to American Jews that, as Jews living in America, we are living lives not of dual loyalty but of dual identity. As far apart as is the chasm between Norman Podhoretz and Noam Chomsky in the realm of ideology, both men are legally Americans. The Satmar Hassid living in New Square and the Jewish atheist who eats bacon for breakfast on Yom Kippur in Los Angeles are each Americans. As an American, I have more in common with an American of African descent than I do with a Jew in Israel, even a Jew in Jerusalem who is from the same shtetl in Russia from whence my ancestors came.
I do not know if all American Jews realize this. If a Jew in America wants to have legal, national and public status as a Jew, he or she should make aliya. The Law of Return is a legal recognition that Jewish identity is a national identity. Identity in the Jewish state, usually for the good but sometime for the bad, is Jewish identity. The American and French revolutionaries of two centuries ago would not stand for a state within a state. The heavy price of citizenship is that Jews lost their national identity. Zionism was both a response to anti-Semitism and a response to that loss of public Jewish identity.
The Pollard Affair, unlike the infamous framing of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus in Paris more than a century ago, did not result in cries of "Death to the Jews." That difference is one of the things that makes America so great. But let us always remember, Jonathan Pollard's treachery may be an exception to the rule when it comes to American Jewry, but the psychology of this traitor - a psychology that denies the possibility of dual loyalty for American Jews who love and support Israel - is a mind-set that lurks behind us all, and will not go away as soon as we might like.
The specter of dual loyalty remains. Our divided identity is, today, a reality.
The writer is on the faculty of Nova Southeastern University's LifelongLearning Institute in Davie, Florida.