Back in February, Rep. Ilhan Omar made her “Benjamins” crack followed by the comment about people who have “allegiance to a foreign country”, and one good thing to come out of the controversy was a discussion between Peter Beinart and Deborah Lipstadt at the Forward about the dual loyalty charge against Jews and Israel. I listened to it for the first time yesterday, and Beinart is as usual, intellectually brave.
Beinart says dual loyalty is inherent in the ways in which American Jews support Israel.
I want to talk about the even more sensitive subject that she raised, which is the question of dual loyalty, or dual allegiance. I’ll be honest, I haven’t written this because I feel like it’s too sensitive, but I have talked about it. So my kids go to Jewish day school. When I tried to talk about this subject to them, they were somewhat confused, because they essentially thought that a loyalty– allegiance– to the United States and to Israel was what was expected of them.
Right? I mean look at the iconography of American Jewish life. Prayer for the United States in shul, prayer for medina Yisrael [state of Israel]. American flag, Israeli flag– right? I mean at their school, they have the clock that says what time it is in New York and the clock that says what time it is in Israel.
And if someone asked me, do you have a loyalty to the Jewish people, which is separate from your loyalty to the United States, I would say Yes. I would say Of course I have a loyalty to the Jewish people. I feel an affinity and a connection and a concern for Jews around the world because we are Am Yisrael, we are a people. And so I guess, I totally understand that the suggestion that Jews are not good citizens is very, very dangerous and has a very, very ugly ugly history. But how can one talk about the fact that as Jews we do have a special for the Jewish people and for the Jewish state and I would imagine that if African Americans have a special concern for what happens in Haiti, why should that be considered illegitimate.
By the way, many other Jews from John Judis to Joe Klein to Eric Alterman to Melissa Weintraub, have made a similar point.
Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar of anti-Semitism, pushed back against Beinart’s characterization of dual loyalty. It’s one thing to talk about the “affinity” of a people for another country– look at the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day– and another to invoke a “nexus of anti-Semitic stereotypes.” One such anti-Semitic stereotype is that Jews can’t be trusted.
We’re talking about a loyalty that supersedes your loyalty to the United States. That in a crunch you would support Israel before the United States.. Not even in a crunch, that you’re not loyal to the United States… That is really the crux of the anti-Semitic charge.
Lipstadt went back more than 100 years ago, to the belief that Jews didn’t serve in the military. And on back to the era in the 1800’s and earlier when Jews could not always obtain citizenship in Europe because they were seen to constitute a separate people. That was the corrosive stereotype Ilhan Omar was plugging into, Lipstadt said: like saying of a young black person he’s “shiftless” or of a pretty college student, she’s a “dumb blonde.”
Beinart dispensed with the ancient history.
[What] if one were to say, Look, I think AIPAC should register as an agent of a foreign government because in reality they are not independent of Israeli government? When Netanyahu came out against the Iran deal, AIPAC did not have an independent choice about whether it was going to or not. It has to pretty much follow the Israeli government, almost all the time.
Lipstadt said that a month earlier, AIPAC criticized an Israeli leader for making a political deal with a “reprehensible” racist party in Israel, a party AIPAC refuses to meet with, in order to win reelection. AIPAC’s statement did not mention Benjamin Netanyahu by name. “That was pretty significant,” Lipstadt said.
That was a break, but it was very unusual I think. And not on a policy issue. In general, I think you tend to find them more often breaking with the American government than with the Israeli government.
Lipstadt held the brief for AIPAC, saying it hadn’t broken with the American government on the Iran deal, because the Congress was against the deal, even if it was President Obama’s policy.
Can one question whether AIPAC is acting de facto as an agent of the Israeli government without being anti-Semitic?
Lipstadt said, Yes, one could have such a discussion about AIPAC, but it would have to be a “serious conversation.” It wouldn’t begin with a flippant remark. “It wouldn’t be starting by saying it’s dual allegiance.”
Personally I have no idea how you can have a real discussion of anything important when rules are laid down ahead of time about what is the right tone. In fact, what has started a serious discussion of dual loyalty inside the lobby was electing a new Muslim female member to Congress who does not feel beholden to AIPAC…
Beinart was in essence on Rep. Omar’s side throughout the discussion. Let’s say it again about Beinart: while he is a fully-credentialed member of the elite, and his personal affiliations are all with a conservative, Zionist community, he has not hesitated to endanger his status by questioning articles of faith of those communities. Hat’s off. This is a guy who ten years ago spoke to private AIPAC fundraising gatherings.
AIPAC’s predecessor organization was registered as a foreign agent for Israel. AIPAC was founded more than 50 years in some measure to escape that foreign designation.
Thanks to Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro for directing my attention to this interview.