Dual Loyalty and the Israel Lobby

A historical perspective of American Jewish allegiance.

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A Different View

This starkly-posed perspective was, however, only one side of the discussion. The historian Oscar Handlin, responding to Thompson in the same issue of Commentary, found her argument perilously misleading. True, the xenophobia stirred by World War I had made something of a bogeyman out of the notion of a "hyphenated-American" identity. But a different American tradition was far better and more deeply established. "We never pretended," Handlin wrote, "that any group of Americans would lack special sympathy for the country of its antecedents, that emigration would dissolve the ties of home and kin and ancient aspirations." In this context, he continued, the fact that "Israel shares with the United States the loyalty of American Zionists is not a departure from the American pattern."

As for American foreign policy, Handlin insisted that neither the founding fathers nor the American people ever expected it to be “significantly free of democratic control.” Quite the opposite: "the main line of American thought has recognized that foreign, like domestic, policy could produce legitimate differences of opinion, and that the most effective way of resolving those differences is through open debate" (emphasis in the original). Political advocacy by American Jewry in this sphere was thus fundamentally no different from similar advocacy by Italian and Irish Americans.

In all these cases particular groups of Americans sustained and supported a country with which they had hereditary ties of some sort. But they did so in terms of standards that had universal currency among all their fellow citizens--the spread of democracy through the world, the self-determination of nations, international action for peace, the desirability of aiding small peoples against great oppressors. One did not have to be a Jew or an Irishman or an Italian to find justice in these arguments.

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Gabriel Schoenfeld

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