I think most of us in the Jewish community take the accusation of “dual loyalty” as a feature specifically of anti-Semitic rhetoric. But the reality is that the insult itself, although always a popular way among anti-Semites to disparage Jewish Americans, has a far more complicated history than taking it “just” as a way of questioning the patriotism of American Jews would make it sound. And the philosophical underpinnings of the idea—the question of whether loyalty to one’s country by definition precludes the possibility of also harboring a deep sense of emotional, financial, or activist involvement in the affairs of some other country—is itself an interesting question to think through.It is widely understood that the heart cannot love two other persons simultaneously with the exact same level of passion or vigor, and that, as a result, one of the two parties will always be the less loved and one the more no matter how pure one’s original intention to love them both equally well might have been. Indeed, it was the slow insinuation of this idea into our Western consciousness that led to even the most traditional Jews turning away from polygamy despite its scriptural bona fides and instead embracing the monogamous model in marriage. Nor is this just a non-binding instance of a custom falling into gentle desuetude: Rabbi Gershom ben Judah of Mainz formally interdicted polygamy in the year 1240—an amazingly daring move in his day in that it actually made (and makes) it forbidden to obey to least one of the 613 commandments according to the simple meaning of the text, which is surely how Scripture meant for it to be observed—and thus does it remain forbidden and not merely out of vogue for Jews even today.
What is true with respect to the love of another person is also widely understood to be true with respect to the love of one’s country. And, indeed, although fidelity to one’s spouse and allegiance to one’s country are hardly each other’s exact counterpart in every single way, there are features that both clearly do—and should—share. To consider the issue from an American vantage point, for example, I think it is entirely fair to say that the love of country that characterizes the patriotic citizen, rooted as it must be in a deep allegiance both specifically to the foundational ideas upon which the republic rests and more generally to the whole American ethos as it has evolved to our day, simply cannot co-exist with that citizen’s same level of allegiance to some other country and to its institutions and foundational ideas.But does that concept of patriotic monogamy, so to speak, mean that citizens are somehow being untrue to the country of their own citizenship by caring deeply about, and feeling intensely involved in, the affairs of other nations? Is it an act of disloyalty for someone happily married to a loving spouse also to care deeply about other people—about a neighbor suffering from some terrible illness, say, or about a co-worker suddenly in danger of losing his or her home? Who would say it does? And yet the dual-allegiance derogation—with its implication that one cannot be a truly patriotic American if one also cares deeply about the affairs of another country and is emotionally or even spiritually caught up in that country’s affairs of state—continues to surface like an endlessly recurring infection that simply refuses to succumb until it has done the maximum damage possible…to those whose American patriotism it attempts to sully and, paradoxically, also to those who degrade their own allegiance to our nation’s democratic principles by using it to question the patriotism of others. And, yes, this does seem to be more focused on Jewish supporters of Israel than on others: I imagine Irish Americans care more about Ireland than most other Americans do, but I can’t recall anyone accusing them of disloyalty because of it.
Most recently, this has come up in the wake of a comment of Rashida Tlaib, the newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Michigan, who openly and publicly suggested that people backing a series of pro-Israel bills in the House appear to hear to have forgotten “what country they represent.” The implication of that remark, tweeted out to her 280,000 followers on Twitter, is completely clear in its suggestion that any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate who actively and vocally supports Israel cannot be a truly patriotic American and so should not be trusted to serve in the Congress or imagined invariably to have the best interests of American citizens at heart. (The irony that inheres in the fact that Tlaib is both a Palestinian-American and an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian cause, yet presumably does not see herself as unsure what country she represents, went unnoticed only by some. See below.)The “dual loyalty” mud has been flung at many others as well over the years. The internment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans in West Coast concentration camps during the Second World War could only be justified with reference to the fear that, now that war had come, Americans of Japanese descent might reasonably have opted to preference allegiance to their ancestral homeland over loyalty to their adopted one. The 1960 presidential election was marred by opponents of John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, openly wondering if the then-candidate’s true allegiance was to our nation or to the Vatican. There are lots of other examples too, of course. But all have in common the basic notion that caring deeply, personally, and intensely about the security and wellbeing of a foreign state is a form—albeit a minor and unactionable form—of sedition. But is that a reasonable supposition? It is one thing, after all, for the Constitution to require that the President of the United States be a “natural born Citizen,” presumably because of the fear that any citizen who was formerly the citizen of a different country will necessarily harbor in his or her heart the kind of indelible allegiance to that country that would make it impossible to be wholly loyal to this one. When spelled out that clearly, that sounds ridiculous. Or at least to me it does! But to posit that citizens in general, and not specifically those seeking the highest office in the land, are by definition disloyal if they care deeply about the fate or wellbeing of specific other nations strikes me as being infinitely more so.
Two essays published last week spoke directly to this issue and I’d like to recommend them both to you.Writing on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website, Andrew Silow-Carroll cited a remark by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis dating back to 1915 in which he could have been addressing himself to Rashida Tlaib directly. “Multiple loyalties,” he wrote, “are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. Every Irish American who contributed towards advancing home rule [i.e., in an Ireland then fighting for its own independence from Britain] was a better man and a better American for the sacrifice he made. Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so.” In other words, caring deeply about an ancestral homeland and feeling a tie of kinship and emotional affinity to its inhabitants is not a sign of disloyalty, much less of sedition, but rather a natural extension of the allegiance we all feel to our extended families. But Silow-Carroll’s comment on that passage is also worth citing: “The Brandeisian notion that ‘multiple loyalties’ make you a better American has guided and justified Jewish activism for Israel even before its founding in 1948. It’s based partly on Brandeis’ theoretical notion that loyalty itself is an admirable and fungible quality, like honesty or sobriety. And it assumes, as Brandeis did famously, that American values, Jewish values and Zionist values are fully aligned.” I couldn’t agree more. To read Silow-Carroll’s piece, click here.
The other essay was by Alan Dershowitz and was published on the website of the Gatestone Institute. His essay is less about Tlaib herself, however, and more about the anti-BDS legislation whose supporters Tlaib was attacking. (To read the essay in its entirely, click here.) That legislation, intended to make illegal discrimination against entities (commercial or academic or otherwise) that do business with Israel, is being widely attacked in some circles as an attack on the freedom of speech promised all Americans by the First Amendment. He addresses that charge, I think effectively and—for me, at least—conclusively, and then turns his withering gaze to Rashida Tlaib herself and addresses her tweet: “Tlaib argues that ‘boycotting is a right and part of our historical fight for freedom and equality.’ Would she have supported, in the name of equality, the right of white bigots to boycott Black owned stores in the South or Black apartment renters in the North? Would she support the right of homophobes to boycott gay owned stores? Or the right of anti-Muslim bigots to boycott Muslim-owned stores or products from Muslim nations? If she were to support legislation prohibiting anti-Palestinian boycotts, how would she respond to an accusation that she ‘forgot what country’ she represents?...No one has accused Tlaib of forgetting what country she represents when she supports the Palestinian cause, even though Palestinian terrorists, acting in the name of ‘Palestine,’ have killed numerous Americans. Americans of any religion have the right to support Israel, and most do, without being accused of disloyalty, just as Americans of any religion have the right to support the Palestinian cause. It is both bigoted and hypocritical to apply a different standard to Jews who support Israel than to Muslims who support the Palestinian cause.”What else is there to say? I couldn’t feel myself to be a more patriotic citizen of our great country. My deep commitment to the security and wellbeing of the State of Israel is not solely rooted in the fact that Joan and I own property there, but far more deeply in my conviction that the future of the Jewish people is inextricably tied to the fate of the State of Israel. I can’t even begin to explain why anyone would argue seriously that that makes me less of an American patriot.