The heartstrings of American Jews

Why is the ‘dual loyalties’ trope antisemitic?

April 6, 2019 22:38
The heartstrings of American Jews

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) takes part with Democratic leaders (including U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left) during the announcement of the introduction of the Equality Act at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 13, 2019. (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

In 2012, Ilhan Omar tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Now, as a member of the House of Representatives, she has called opposition to her criticism of Israel to be “all about the Benjamins” and has said that she wants to discuss “the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

There has been a lot of controversy over these statements, and controversy about the controversy. Many on the Left, including some American Jews, have defended Omar. Some excuse these statements as expressing legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, legitimate concerns about the United States’ relationship with Israel, and legitimate concerns about money in politics. Others view Omar as being unfairly maligned by conservatives because of her progressive credentials and her background as one of the first Muslim women in Congress, and so feel compelled to come to her defense. However, by denying Jews the bleak privilege of defining and identifying antisemitism themselves, and by blindly taking Omar’s statements as they could be superficially read instead of reading between the lines and seeking to understand the historical context for the antisemitic tropes used therein, defenders of Omar hypocritically fall for the same genre of partisan trap as those across the political spectrum who defend Trumpian and alt-Right dog whistles.

First, it is important to acknowledge that it is okay to criticize the policies and actions of the Israeli government – it is in fact neither antisemitic nor anti-Zionist to do so. Where criticism of the State of Israel crosses into antisemitism is not a blurry line. It is very clear and it really has only a few manifestations, the one at hand being accusations of dual-loyalty toward Jews in the Diaspora. Such accusations have been a trope of hatred toward Jews for thousands of years, and are a central element of the Book of Esther which is read on the upcoming holiday of Purim.

THE ISSUE with the “dual loyalties” antisemitic trope is not that it is false prima facie, as naturally there is a bond between American Jews and Israel. The issue is that it masks more insidious characteristics common to antisemitic canards in general. Accusations of Jews’ allegiance to a foreign country imply that by being loyal to Israel, American Jews are actively subversive in their involvement in American politics to the detriment of the United States. We know this to be false – to gloss over the reasons: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and shares our social and ethical values; Israel is a staunch ally with whom we cooperate on security issues and intelligence gathering; Israel and America share many economic interests, scientific pursuits, cultural phenomena and much more. If there is any country for which an American citizen, Jewish or not, is to have an affinity, Israel should be on the shortlist.

The fact that the “dual loyalties” card is once again being used against Jews in particular is an indication that it is founded in antisemitism. Why may other peoples share familial or fraternal bonds with foreign countries, but when Jews do so, it is subversive and disloyal to our home country? This form of xenophobia has been used against other groups – notably toward the Japanese during World War II, for example – but in all cases it is driven by bigotry. Not any less so now that hatred and fear of Jews is in vogue once again.

Painting Jews as having “dual loyalties” is a tried and true method of “otherizing” Jews and painting them as evil, when to the contrary, America Jews have proudly served their country from the beginning. American history will never forget Haym Solomon, whose efforts nearly single-handedly enabled the financing of the Revolutionary War at great personal cost. American history will never forget Jewish military service, Jewish participation on the front lines of the civil rights movement, and Jewish cultural, scientific and business achievements that contributed to making this country what it was prior to Trump.

On the other side, Jewish history will never forget America being the first nation to separate church and state, and to protect freedom of religious expression in its founding document. Jewish history will never forget the moving words of our first president in his letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790. Jewish history will never forget America’s reception of countless Jewish immigrants looking for a better life, fleeing from pogroms and Nazis. Jewish history will never forget our essential role in defeating fascism in World War II. Jewish history will never forget that the United States of America was the first country in the world to recognize the State of Israel, 11 minutes after its independence was proclaimed. Jewish history will never forget the friendship and support offered to Israel in its critical early years. Jewish history will never forget the prosperity, safety and welcoming home that America has provided for its Jewish citizens. The heartstrings of American Jews are not tugged in opposing directions. Allegiances are not zero-sum games.

The writer is a management consultant.

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