Opinion: The question of dual loyalty among diaspora Jews

Is the label of dual loyalty accurate, and if so, is there something intrinsically wrong with a plurality of affiliations or sympathies?

By: Henry Roth

The strong connection most Jews feel towards Israel has led to us being criticized regularly and vehemently for having dual, and by implication, conflicting loyalties, i.e., those of us living in the Diaspora are supposedly as beholden to Israel as we are to our country of residence, if not more so.

It is true that other groups have been tarred with the same brush, such as American Roman Catholics when John Kennedy ran for President, but no group has been criticized as frequently or as ferociously on this issue as Jews have been. In fact, google “dual loyalty/Israel” and you’ll find almost two million references.

“Dual loyalty” alone generates nearly 20 million hits but amongst the 18 million items not related to Jews and Israel, yet there are relatively few that refer to other specific, identifiable religious or ethnic groups.

The question then is whether this label of dual loyalty is accurate, and if it is, is there something intrinsically wrong with a plurality of affiliations or sympathies?

For example, does supporting the right of Israelis to live in the Golan, Judea and Samaria (because one believes that Jews have a legitimate claim to those territories based on history and defensive necessity) constitute conflicting loyalties if the country in which we live claims those settlements are illegal?  No, it simply means that we do not agree with our government’s interpretation of relevant legal statutes or historical precedent.  This right of dissent is a bedrock principle of democracy.

The fact is that a Jew can be proudly Canadian or American or Irish or Mongolian or whatever and truly appreciate all the opportunities and freedom those nationalities provide without denying or minimizing the strong ties and spiritual connection that one has with Israel.  Why do we have to elevate one affiliation over the other?  Do we ask a child to declare which parent they love more?

A stunning lack of historical knowledge

Questioning a Jew’s right to feel and express strong ties to Israel regardless of his or her country of residence is primarily based on the mistaken view that Israeli interests are somehow antithetical to the interests of other Western nations.  It also betrays a stunning lack of historical knowledge because for someone to minimize or dismiss the centrality of Israel (and especially Jerusalem) in Judaism is to ignore thousands of years of Jewish history.

Sadly, that history also encompasses unending persecution culminating in – but not ending with – the Holocaust, and Israel fulfills a unique and essential role in guaranteeing the present and future security of the Jewish people.

It may well be that Jews have to contend with this accusation of dual loyalties more so than any other identifiable group simply because what happens in Israel has far-reaching geopolitical ramifications.  An Italian-American, for example, doesn’t have to face the issue because very little of what transpires nowadays in Italy has an impact elsewhere. Israel, on the other hand, sits in the middle of the tinder-box that is the Middle East.

Can Israel be blamed for terrorism?

But to blame Israel, a tiny country of 8.5 million people, for worldwide terrorism and spikes in energy prices while ignoring the devastating fallout of the tribalism and religious extremism of the nearly half a billion Arabs in the region is to invert cause and effect.

Jews should not be hesitant to loudly proclaim their support for Israel, and if the result is to be labeled ‘dual loyalist’, then we should understand that the epithet says more about the accuser than it says about us.

The author resides in Montreal, Canada.