Last week the Israeli Foreign Ministry was preparing to distribute a poll to American Jews asking them to which country they would feel allegiance during a crisis, Israel or the U.S., when Prime Minister Netanyahu stuffed the survey out of concern that it would raise an “explosive” issue (as Haaretz put it). In response, Hillel Halkin stands up at the Forward for dual loyalty on the part of Jewish Zionists. “Why American Jews Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Put Israel First.”
And MJ Rosenberg got in trouble for talking about Israel Firsters?
I believe that Louis Brandeis made a similar argument about Americans’ diverse cultural affinities in seeking to remove the dual-loyalty stigma from Zionists 100 years ago, after he was converted to Zionism.
The poll sought to determine, among other things, which country American Jews would side with in case of a serious confrontation between Israel and the United States. As such, it was rightly criticized for conjuring up the specter of “dual loyalty” that Jews in America and elsewhere have been accused of by their enemies. There’s certainly no need to provide extra grist for the anti-Semitic mill. Yet it’s also time to stop pretending that the loyalties of some American Jews aren’t divided between Israel and America. Of course they are. There’s just nothing wrong with it — nor is there anything uniquely Jewish about this. You’ll find plenty of similar cases in other places.
The truth is that any American Jew who doesn’t care as much about a Jewish state as he or she does about the United States can’t be very identified with the Jewish people. Suppose vital American and Israeli interests were to clash. What would it mean for a Jew to say: ”I don’t give a damn what’s best for Israel. All that matters to me is what’s best for America”? What kind of Jew would that be? How deep could his or her Jewishness be said to go?
But one could ask a similar question about tens of millions of other Americans. Do Cuban Americans who have pressed for decades for harsh American policies toward Communist Cuba ask whether these are really in America’s interest? It’s enough for them to tell themselves that they’re in Cuba’s interest. Do Mexican Americans favor a relaxation of immigration laws because they think America’s general public will benefit? What they think, you can be sure, is that other Mexicans will benefit — and why shouldn’t they want them to?
It is excellent that the Forward has run this. It is akin to Eric Alterman’s frank declaration at the 92d Street Y that he has dual loyalty (not going in for Halkin’s euphemism, divided). It’s plainly the case that many American Jews would choose Israel’s interest over the U.S.’s if the two countries clashed.
While Halkin regards that choice as just fine, the Forward opens the door on those who may disagree– citing the regressive Cuban example, or the Irish-American support for a revolutionary movement back where they came from. Or: Did the neoconservatives support the Iraq war because it was in Israel’s interest? Joe Klein said they exhibited “divided loyalties” in doing so.
Myself I believe in the honorable principle of Doykeit, hereness in the Polish Yiddish formulation of the 1900s. Yes it worked out badly for the Polish Jews, but it remains the ideal of a democratic polity.
Speaking of which, my people came from Poland and Rumania and Russia, not from the Middle East. Yet to be concerned for Israel, a place most American Jews have never laid eyes on, is in Halkin’s view to “be identified with the Jewish people.” This is the knot at the bottom of Jewish identity in our times. Marc Ellis would say that identification with the Jewish people means concern for Palestinian conditions.