The dual loyalty slander

We ought not alter our behavior based on the totally illegitimate charge of “dual loyalty,” that is almost exclusively hurled against us as Jews.

Argentine bombing (photo credit: REUTERS)
Argentine bombing
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘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.
This story 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 hold.
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 Judaism.
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’ behalf.
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 Roman expulsion.
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 millennia.
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 origins.
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 should they.
Dozens of countries have similar ethnically-based citizenships.
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 same.
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 anti-Semitism.
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 worldwide.
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.