Questioning the Loyalty of Jewish Americans
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OpinionFrom Where I Sit

Questioning the Loyalty of Jewish Americans

Does their religion require Jewish Americans to maintain loyalty to both the United States and Israel?

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

In the land of historical context, the past can help inform the present.
The accusation that Jews are more loyal to their religion – and/or, since 1948, to Israel – than to the lands in which they live, has been at the root of much of the suffering inflicted on the Jewish people throughout history.

“The notion of dual loyalty is a linchpin of the anti-Semitic stereotype,” Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, whose latest book is titled “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” told the Forward.

President Donald Trump ignited (again) a wildfire in the liberal provinces of American Jewry with this comment: “If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”

The roughly 70 percent of Jewish Americans who support Democrats do so in keeping with their understanding of Jewish values.

Daniel Larison, a senior editor at The American Conservative, wrote that “In one of the more disgraceful episodes of Trump’s presidency, he once again denounces Jewish Americans for putting America and our values first.”

The irony, as noted by the scholar Shaul Magid, is that where Jews usually are accused of being insufficiently loyal to their country of residence, Trump suggested that the majority of Jewish Americans are insufficiently loyal to a foreign country.

Trump’s Jewish supporters, meanwhile, continue to ask “what about” anti-Semitism by the left-wing squad on the Democrats’ bench, citing support of the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) movement and allegations that the pro-Israel lobby purchases its influence on foreign policy.

More than a century ago, the jurist Louis Brandeis told a meeting of Reform rabbis, “Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with patriotism.”

“Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so,” Brandeis said in 1915, the year before he became an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In April 1950, two years after the establishment of the state of Israel, Jacob Blaustein, president of the American Jewish Committee, told the AJC’s executive committee “We repudiate vigorously the suggestion that American Jews are in exile. The future of American Jewry, of our children and of our children’s children, is entirely linked with the future of America. We have no alternative; and we want no alternative.”

That August, at a luncheon in Jerusalem, Blaustein told Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion – as well as the Israeli cabinet and President Chaim Weizmann – that Israeli statements urging all Jews to move to Israel were damaging the morale of American Jewry and making it difficult to raise money for Israel.

An agreement was reached that American Jews and Israel would, in today’s parlance, stay in their own lanes.

“The Prime Minister’s statement makes it clear, among other things, that without any reservations the State of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of any other country; and that the Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have no political attachment to Israel. This means that the allegiance of American Jews is to America and America alone, and should put an end to any idea or allegation that there is any such thing as dual loyalty on the part of American Jewry,” Blaustein said.

In October 1956, Ben-Gurion wrote to Blaustein: “The Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have only one political attachment, and that is to the United States of America. They owe no political allegiance to Israel. … We, the people of Israel, have no desire and no intention to interfere in any way with the internal affairs of Jewish communities abroad.”

Particularly since Israel’s victory in the June 1967 Six Day War, the trees that Blaustein and Ben-Gurion planted in the land of historical context have been set alight and burned to ash. In their place, Jewish Americans and Israel have planted a hybrid, grafting the emotional, financial, and political attachments of the former onto the latter’s sense of empowerment, which manifests itself in actions and policies that impact the lives of all Jews, wherever they live.

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