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 In Defense of Dual Loyalty 

February 18, 2003

Well, the fur is flying now. The debate about war on Iraq often seems to be less about the reasons for and against war than about the motives of the debaters themselves. The touchiest and most volatile point in the debate is the old question of Jewish loyalty, especially as regards Israel.

When the British issued the Balfour Declaration calling for a Jewish homeland in Palestine back in 1918, the Jewish Lord Montagu wept. He thought it was a tragic mistake, because it would call in question the loyalty of Diaspora Jews to their native countries. He thought the suspicion of “dual loyalty” was inevitable.

He was right, but he didn’t foresee how that suspicion would be suppressed in our time. Today the charge of dual loyalty is considered disreputable, so disreputable that it should never be entertained even as a possibility. Writing in the Washington Post, Lawrence Kaplan insinuates that those who suspect Israeli loyalists, especially within the Bush administration, of pushing for war are — though he avoids the word — anti-Semites.

Well, if we’re going to argue about this, let’s start with an obvious question: What’s wrong with dual loyalties? I love this country in my way, but I love the Europe of my ancestors too, and I don’t blame Jews whose chief loyalty is to their own people. I rather expect it. It’s called nature. It isn’t necessarily sinister. But it has to be taken into account.

“All stereotypes are more or less accurate,” writes the sociologist John Murray Cuddihy. That doesn’t mean they are universally true; it means they are broadly true, even if there are exceptions. Just because an ethnic generalization isn’t always true doesn’t mean it’s never true.

[Breaker quote: My extended family]Politicians, who don’t traffic in subtle nuances, know this. Crude stereotypes, usually implicit, serve them well. New York politicians, bidding for the Jewish vote, assume what they won’t say outright: that the best way to get Jewish votes is to call for all-out U.S. support for Israel. That is, they assume that most Jews’ first loyalty today is to Israel. And nobody accuses them of anti-Semitism for assuming this.

What’s more, it gets them elected. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Robert Wagner, Jacob Javits, John Lindsay, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Al D’Amato, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Charles Schumer, Hillary Clinton ... Nobody ever lost a New York election by being too pro-Israel. Never.

It’s unfair to blame the Jews for doing what most of us do. But it’s absurd to pretend that they don’t do it. Are we really supposed to believe that the Jewish-Zionist-Likudnik hawks around President Bush — the Perle-Wolfowitz-Feith-JINSA crowd — would be so eager for war if they thought Iraq was Israel’s friend? Please. And most of the big Jewish organizations want the United States to fight Israel’s enemies. Naturally! We aren’t supposed to notice?

Read the Jewish press. How often do you find its writers saying, “Well, this war might be good for Israel, but it would be bad for America, and after all, we are American citizens first!”? Almost unimaginable. Actually, dual loyalty would be an improvement. It would mean putting American interests ahead of Israeli interests every once in a while.

For all that, the Jewish hawks may be right. It’s possible that American and Israeli interests coincide now and then. But how likely is it that those interests are always identical? That there is no tension at all between loyalty to both countries?

At the moment there is certainly tension between my American and European loyalties, and you may say, if you like, that I’m with Europe. The millions of peace marchers who turned out last weekend spoke for me. They were the voice of European civilization; and when America threatens Europe’s peace, I see no reason to side with America.

But I also see no reason to hide my loyalties. I’m proud of Europe, especially now. I’m sometimes ashamed of America, especially now. I just think Israel-first Jews ought to be equally frank. Let’s all declare our interests.

I don’t think this war will really be good for America. I’m not even sure it will be good for Israel. But as the Godfather asks, with a fine sense of relevance, “What is the interest for me and my family?” My family, in this case, is not only America, but Europe. And Europe wants peace.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
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