Salon has a conversation with the late Gore Vidal (conducted between ’88 and ’07). An excerpt:
Jon Wiener: On the Jewish question, your article “The Empire Lovers Strike Back” in The Nation offended many people. Podhoretz says to Vidal, “To me the Civil War is as remote and as irrelevant as the War of the Roses.” Vidal writes, “I realized then that he was not planning to become an ‘assimilated American,’ rather, his first loyalty would always be to Israel.”
Gore Vidal: Let’s look it up. What I wrote is always shaded this way and that way in order to change the meaning. It’s been so shaded now that I am supposed to have said that all Jews are Fifth Columnists. Now here’s the exact sentence: “‘Well, to me,’ said Poddy, ‘the Civil War is as remote and irrelevant as the War of the Roses.’ I realized then that he was not planning to become an ‘assimilated American,’ to use the old-fashioned terminology, but, rather, his first loyalty would always be to Israel. Yet he admits that they ought to remain among us in order to make propaganda to raise money for Israel, a country they don’t seem eager to live in. Jewish joke circa 1900: A Zionist is a someone who wants to ship other people off to Palestine.”
I had this out with my old friend Norman Lear, who said “you can’t say ‘assimilated.’” I said, “Come on, you started People for the American Way. Well, which are you? If you’re not going to be an ‘assimilated’ American, then what are you? Are you an Israeli who happens to be living here?”
My argument is only weak at one point: What on earth does Vidal care about nationality? I hate the nation-state. What am I doing saying you’ve got to be either a good American or a good Israeli, but you can’t be both? Why not to hell with both of them? That would demolish my argument.
But no Jew can do that, at least none who like Israel, because they have to protect this peculiar little state. So, instead of hitting me where I really am weak, they get hung up and try to talk about anti-Semitism. Which has nothing to do with it.
Wiener: But you’re also talking here about a historical consciousness of the American past, which is increasingly rare.
That may have to do with my age and class and background, but you can’t expect me not to be.
Wiener: American historians understand why the Civil War is the key to our history, but I suspect that most 20th century immigrants — Italians or Poles, or more recently, Asian or Mexican immigrants — have the same feeling that the Civil War is as remote for them as the War of the Roses.
You’re absolutely right. But look at the context of my essay: The Podhoretzes are giving out marks for Americanism. They write about me, “He doesn’t like his country.” That’s the standard neocon line about all liberals. “Well, one thing is clear in all this muddle, writes Midge [Decter], adrift in her tautological sea, “Mr. Vidal does not like his country.” They talk about me not liking my country, but they have no interest in the Civil War — or, I suspect, in the United States except as Israel’s financier.
[Excerpted from “I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics. Interviews with Jon Wiener.” Forthcoming in November 2012, by OR Books.]
P.S. Thanks to Annie Robbins for that excerpt. It’s interesting to me that the dual loyalty idea simply won’t go away and is actually becoming part of the conversation. Because the problem is inherent in Zionism; and even leftwingers become Americanists on the subject, as Vidal did, and I do. Norman Finkelstein made this point on Saturday at the New School. He said that most American Jews will run from Israel when, say, Netanyahu summons them to loyalty lest they be accused of dual loyalty. But implicitly he is saying that some American Jews do feel dual loyalty. Just look at Sheldon Adelson’s comments on wanting to serve in the Israeli army or Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s late wife saying she wanted her son to serve for Israel or Eric Alterman saying that he feels dual loyalty.