The Iran deal is an important moment in Jewish history because the Jewish state has made clear that it wants American Jews to support it and oppose the deal, but American Jews aren’t buying. This is a crisis both for the lobby (the dovish segments of which are supporting the U.S. government) and for the Zionist construction of Jewish identity, which entails some measure of dual loyalty.
Two clips that back this up. The Economist speaks of a “terrifying split” that Israel faces between itself and American Jews, and says that Netanyahu has played a dangerous game by risking their solidarity. And at Haaretz, an American Jewish writer calls on American Jews to wallow in dual loyalty.
Yes, two foreign publications, anatomizing American Jewish identity. Where is the New York Times?
The Economist cites polling that shows Americans overwhelmingly support the Iran deal, and American Jews align:
What is certain is that Mr Netanyahu is risking a split between Israel and America, and between Israel and American Jews, of a type that has never before occurred. The American people are not interested in fighting another war in the Middle East. They do not see the Iranian nuclear programme as an immediate, existential threat. They do not dismiss the election of a moderate Iranian president willing to sign an agreement with the United States, one containing significant sacrifices for Iran, as a deceitful trick by a totalitarian government. They believe that Iran’s shift in direction may be real, and they have endorsed a deal that rewards that shift in direction.
The same is true for a large fraction of American Jews. American Jews are largely liberal, and largely support Barack Obama; Mr Netanyahu’s relentless baiting of Mr Obama over the past five years has already tested their willingness to take Israel’s side. Now, Mr Netanyahu’s threat to stage a unilateral attack on Iran risks creating an unprecedented schism. In every previous conflict between Israel and its regional enemies, even when Israel initiated the military action (as in the 1956 and 1967 wars, and to some extent the invasions of Lebanon and Gaza), American Jews have accepted Israeli assessments of the threat. This time, many of them won’t. An Israeli attack on Iran that resulted in Iranian and regional Shiite attacks on American targets and interests, against the wishes and best judgment of most Americans and many American Jews, could lead to an irreversible break. The fact is that Mr Netanyahu is wrong about the deal signed on Sunday: it reduces, rather than increases, the risk of an Iranian nuclear bomb. But even if Mr Netanyahu were right, an increase in the risk of an Iranian nuclear bomb poses nowhere near as great a threat to Israel’s security as losing the solidarity of American Jews.
Here is Dov Waxman, an associate professor of political science at Baruch College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY)., speaking of the same issue, a “nightmare scenario for American Jews – forcing them to choose between their loyalty to the U.S. and their loyalty to the Jewish state.”
The countries’ interests are not the same, and Waxman says that we should accept our dual loyalty. I believe Waxman is right, and that dual loyalty is inherent in Zionism; and the Iraq war exposed the faultline, engendered this crisis of Zionism, in the era of the nation-state (when my Americanness however I choose to define it is more important than my Jewishness). Waxman:
Despite whatever pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington D.C. might say, the U.S. and Israel simply do not have identical national interests when it comes to Iran. To be sure, neither want Iran to have a nuclear weapon and both are determined to prevent this, but the United States could live with something less than this – Iranian nuclear enrichment – if it really had to, whereas Israel, or at least the Netanyahu government, clearly believes that it cannot. As long as Iran retains the technical ability to produce a nuclear weapon, Israel faces an existential threat, however remote that threat may be. The U.S., on the other hand, faces no such threat. It is simply too big, and too far away, to be destroyed by Iranian nukes even if the ruling clerics in Iran were suicidally inclined.
That two different countries should read the strategic map differently should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. But this basic and unavoidable fact is, however, discomforting for many American Jews. For decades, it has been an article of faith within the American Jewish community that America and Israel shared the same interests and values. In synagogues across the country, the flags of both countries are displayed patriotically side by side…
By insisting on the unity of interests between the United States and Israel, American Jews could avoid the thorny issue of ‘dual loyalties.’ They could comfortably maintain emotional ties and allegiances to both countries, secure in the belief that there was no conflict of interest between them. This was always something of a convenient fiction, even at the height of the Cold War when Israel’s strategic value to the U.S. was greater than it is today. It is now obviously false, at least to honest observers.
When an Israeli prime minister directly appeals to American Jews to oppose a major diplomatic initiative of an American president, as Netanyahu recently did in his address to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish community is confronted with a test of loyalties. …
In the coming months, as the interim nuclear deal with Iran is implemented and negotiations for a comprehensive agreement get underway, the Obama Administration and the Netanyahu government are likely to continue to disagree, at times publicly and testily, over the Iranian nuclear program, and this will cause many American Jews to feel deeply conflicted. This is the unavoidable burden of having dual loyalties. It is a burden that should neither be denied nor wished away: Difficult as they are to manage, American Jews should embrace their dual loyalties as an expression of their multifaceted identity.
P.S. Eric Alterman said the same thing a few years ago. Zionism entails dual loyalty, and I embrace it. The U.S. can take a few hits, Israel can’t; I’m with Israel, he said. But then, where’s the line?