Dual Loyalty and the Israel Lobby

A historical perspective of American Jewish allegiance.

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Reprinted with permission of the author from Commentary.

This article is excerpted from a longer piece by the author in response a 2006 Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) event, "The Israel Lobby and the U.S. Response to the War in Lebanon." The event featured two political scientists, John J. Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard and former academic dean of the university's Kennedy School of Government. Prior that year they published a working paper on the Kennedy's school's website "The Israel Lobby," in which they argue that "the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel."

American Jewry and Israel

As a pluralistic society, the United States has long wrestled with the issue posed by the foreign ties of its citizens--the issue, in short, of dual or divided loyalty. In the realm of foreign policy in particular, there has been a perennial fear that domestic interest groups will distort American priorities. In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned against "[s]ympathy for the favorite [foreign] nation facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest where no real common interest exists."

Even though the United States has proved over two centuries to be a great engine of assimilation, such fears are not ipso facto illegitimate. Today, the political scientist Samuel Huntington has again worried about a weakening of America’s national identity through an upsurge of seemingly unassimilable elements. Latin American immigrants, particularly from Mexico, may be leading us, Huntington writes, toward a "demographic 'reconquista' of areas Americans took from Mexico by force in the 1830's and 1840's." He points to data suggesting that Muslims, too, particularly Arab Muslims, “seem slow to assimilate compared to earlier groups" and, in one study of attitudes in Los Angeles, "do not have close ties or loyalty to the United States."

Where do American Jews, an assimilated ethnic group par excellence, fit in this picture? It is undeniable that a considerable number--the proportion in polls hovers around 75 percent--feel a strong or very strong emotional pull toward Israel. Some are drawn by the significance, after millennia of exile, of a great return to the heartland of the Jewish religion and nation; others by gratitude for the existence of a secure refuge in the wake of the Nazi cataclysm; others by simple kinship with relatives living in the Jewish state; still others by the historical-religious-cultural bond that links all Jews everywhere into a single community.

Does this pull differ in kind from that which Armenian-Americans feel toward Armenia, or Filipino-Americans toward the Philippines? Does it differ from the pull--if that is the right word--that Catholics feel toward the Vatican or Muslims toward Mecca and Medina and their co-religionists abroad? It would hardly seem so. Virtually all American citizens carry bundles of loyalties, some of them sometimes in conflict with each other, others not. The Chinese-American novelist Lan Samantha Chang, writing in the middle of the Wen Ho Lee espionage affair, quoted her father: "I love China. . . . But I am a citizen of the United States." Funeraria Latina, an American subsidiary of Service Corporation International, ships 80 percent of its Hispanic cadavers out of the United States for burial abroad. When Jerold S. Auerbach, a professor at Wellesley College, says that "my body is in the United States; my heart and soul are in Jerusalem," he is thus giving voice to a wholly American sentiment.

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Gabriel Schoenfeld

Gabriel Schoenfeld is the senior editor of Commentary and a regular contributor to the magazine's blog, Contentions.