Ilhan Omar is charged with invoking ‘myth of dual loyalty’ — but many Jewish writers say it’s no myth

Philip Weiss – March 1, 2019
In an appearance at Busboys and Poets two nights ago Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar called out Israel supporters for advocating for a foreign country:

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Omar’s critique is similar to Rep. Rashida Tlaib saying in January that Senate supporters of anti-boycott legislation “forgot what country they represent.”
Both congresswomen have come under a rain of attack from Israel supporters for these comments. Which is no surprise, given that the two Muslim women are Israel’s strongest critics in the Congress.
Jonathan Chait writes at New York Magazine that Omar’s statement is “much worse” than her last controversy, when she ascribed Israel support to financial contributions from the lobby and then apologized for doing so.
Accusing Jews of “allegiance to a foreign country” is a historically classic way of delegitimizing their participation in the political system….Omar is directly invoking the hoary myth of dual loyalty, in which the Americanness of Jews is inherently suspect, and their political participation must be contingent upon proving their patriotism.
But many Jewish writers and thinkers have raised precisely this “hoary myth” very seriously. They have cited “dual loyalty” as a real factor in the Israel-supporting community, and some have termed it a potential problem. Here’s a list:
–John Judis said in The New Republic in 2007 that the Israel lobby demands “dual loyalty” –and said the Chaits of the world are operating with bad faith when they attempt to blackball the issue:
[Jewish leaders] want to demand of American Jewish intellectuals a certain loyalty to Israel, Israeli policies, and to Zionism as part of their being Jewish. They make dual loyalty an inescapable part of being Jewish in a world in which a Jewish state exists…
Many Jews now suffer from dual loyalty–the same way that Cuban-Americans or Mexican-Americans do. By ignoring this dilemma–and, worse still, by charging those who acknowledge its existence with anti-Semitism–the critics of the new anti-Semitism are engaged in a flight from their own political selves. They are guilty of a certain kind of bad faith.
The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives – people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary – plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.
–Rabbi Melissa Weintraub cited the supposed myth when she told a Jewish panel in 2014 that the Iran Deal was a “dual loyalty test” for American supporters of Israel:
Are Israeli interests and American interests actually aligned here? If our American interests do diverge from Israeli interests, what then for us as American Jews?… There are several positions that have been articulated in the American Jewish community around this agreement, one of which is that this was the ultimate dual loyalty test actually because what arose here was actually a divergence between American and Israeli interests, in which the agreement helped America avert a war and did place Israel in existential danger.
Assailed by other panelists for using the words “dual loyalty,” Weintraub doubled down:
The importance of the phrase is that it gets at something that has been articulated in those terms by many Jews whether we use those terms or not, which is a sense of real competing interests….a real sense of being torn. Because there are those who think that American and Israeli interests don’t align here.
MJ Rosenberg
–MJ Rosenberg said in 2014 that dual loyalty is a legitimate issue:
I most certainly do believe that dual loyalty is a valid consideration when any group knowingly chooses the interests of a foreign country over their own. Like Israel Firster, it describes reality. The good news for me is that this is not a Jewish community problem but rather the problem with a small group of Jewish organizational hacks, neocons, and rank-and-file true believers (mostly old), etc. The reason [some] go nuts about “dual loyalty” and “Israel Firster” is because they know how valid the charge is when, as with Iran, people knowingly put the interest of Israel’s Likud government above America’s.
–Douglas Rushkoff said he was confused by dual loyalty issues as a boy attending Larchmont Temple and looking at the flags on the altar. (From “Wrestling With Zion,” 2003).
The flag on the left was American, and the one on the right was Israeli Which one was I supposed to be looking at when I worshiped? Which one deserved our allegiance…
I figured the one we Jews really believed in was the Israeli flag. The one with the Jewish star. That was our country, after all….
So the Jewish flag was our real flag–our secret flag–and the American flag was our conspicuous nod to the nation that we called home…
The dual flags in temple became a metaphor for me of the role of Jews in America.
Douglas Rushkoff, by Rebecca Ashley.
You know, one of the touchiest words you can say when you’re discussing Jews and Israel is the word dual loyalty. It’s sort of one of those words that American Jewish officialdom has ruled out of the discourse. If you say dual loyalty, you’re playing into the hands of anti-semites, because it’s been a consistent trope among anti-Semites that you can’t trust Jews. etc. etc. And I find this very confusing because I was raised dually loyal my whole life. When I went to Hebrew school, the content of my Hebrew school was all about supporting Israel. When my parents who I think are here tonight sent me to Israel when I was 14, on a ZOA [Zionist Organization of America]-sponsored trip… [laughter/backtalk] that was a bad idea, yeah– it was drummed into me that I should do what’s best for Israel.
I was at the Center for Jewish History not long ago where I heard Ruth Wisse, the Yiddishist professor at Harvard who happens to be the Martin L. Peretz professor, instruct a group of young Jewish journalists that they should think of themselves as members of the Israeli army. …
I am a dual loyal Jew and sometimes I’m going to actually go with Israel, because the United States can take an awful lot of hits and come up standing. Whereas if Israel takes one serious bad hit it could disappear. So there’s going to be some cases where when Israel and the United States conflict I’m going to support what’s best for Israel rather than what I think is best for the United States.
Then-editor of the Forward Jane Eisner: Can you imagine a time where you would feel that dual loyalty and go with Israel?
Alterman: I just said, there are many occasions.
Eisner: Can you give us an example?
Alterman:… I think that bin Laden and 9/11 were to some degree inspired by U.S. support of Israel. I think a great deal of the terrorist attacks and the sort of pool of potential terrorists who want to attack the United States are inspired by the United States support for Israel. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support Israel for that reason. I’m saying, Dammit if that’s the price we have to pay, then I’m willing to pay it. I’m just saying Let’s be honest about it.
Eric Alterman
–Alterman named Harvard Yiddish Professor Ruth Wisse as a fellow dual loyalist, for her comments in 2007 at the Center for Jewish History that American Jewish students should serve in the Israeli army:
Every Israeli has to be in the Army for two or three years of his training at least and then a month of every year at least afterwards. I think that American Jews ought to think of themselves the same way, that for a certain part of your life you are just part of that army. Now army life is rotten, it asks you to do things like this [Wisse uses her hands], not to keep thinking. You’re not asked to analyze every situation from anew. You have to exercise, you have to learn. That kind of fight that we have to wage takes a totally different kind of advocacy training, of systematic thinking …
Wisse gave as an example of serving in that army, countering “Arab students” on a college campus.
–Gary Rosenblatt in the NY Jewish Week in 2016 described many Trump voters as “Israel Firsters.”
Among “Israel firsters” — those who vote primarily on what they believe is best for Israel — I find more and more people saying they may well vote for Trump, based on their dislike and distrust of Clinton and their reasoning that Trump will stand up for Israel more forcefully and openly than Clinton.
–Elliott Abrams wrote in 1997 that Jews must “stand apart from the nation in which they live”:
Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart–except in Israel–from the rest of the population…
–In 2016 Dennis Ross told a NY synagogue that American Jews must be advocates for Israel, not for Palestinians:
when we raise questions about what Israel needs to do it shouldn’t be seen as if somehow we’re advocates for the Palestinians. Plenty of others are advocates for the Palestinians. We don’t need to be advocates for Palestinians. We need to be advocates for Israel.
What all these writers and thinkers are saying is that allegiance to Israel is actually an important factor in the support for Israel in the United States, to the point that some support Israel’s interests over America’s.
None of them is saying that it’s treasonous, by the way; some praise that allegiance, some regard it as problematic. But all think it’s a real issue. Just as Theodor Herzl and later Arthur Balfour did when they assured British Jews that establishing a Jewish state in Palestine would not undermine their British loyalty.
And Judis makes the necessary correlation: When you characterize such discussion as anti-Semitic, you’re acting in bad faith, denying something you know to be true, and seeking to set a redline on an important argument.
That’s just what is happening to Omar and Tlaib. Because they have taken the historic step of supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel, a first for American politicians, they must be maligned at every turn.
John Judis, in lower Manhattan, June 1, 2014