The charge of disloyalty has been used to harass, marginalize, and persecute the Jewish people for centuries. Sometimes referred to as the “dual loyalty” charge, it alleges that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens because their true allegiance is to their coreligionists around the world or to a secret and immoral Jewish agenda. This anti-Semitic allegation posits that non-Jews should not trust the motives or actions of their Jewish neighbors, who may be engaged in deceitful behavior to accomplish their own goals at the expense of others.
One of the most infamous examples of this charge is the case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was convicted of espionage in a French military court in 1894 based on flimsy evidence and widespread public discussion of this emancipated, successful Jew’s loyalty to France. Sometimes the allegation of Jewish disloyalty is connected with a social or political movement. In the late nineteenth century, some anti-Semites alleged that Jews’ true loyalty was to Marxism (later Communism) or some other revolutionary ideology. Others claimed that Jews should be suspected of putting the interests of Zionism ahead of the good of their fellow citizens. In more recent times, the age-old accusation has morphed into a modern anti-Semitic belief that Jews should be suspected of serving the interests of the state of Israel rather than those of their countries of origin. Today some allege that Jews’ true loyalty to Israel should disqualify them from being seen as American patriots or that they should be suspected of being deficient in their progressivism.
For years, Arab governments have justified their campaigns to drive out thousand-year-old Jewish populations from their midst with the charge that they were Zionist or Israeli spies. We also have seen the accusation flourish outside the Middle East. In 2010, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez implicated the local Jewish community in response to Israel’s interception of a flotilla bound for Gaza. His foreign minister and future president, Nicolas Maduro, went even further by demanding that Venezuelan Jews denounce statements allegedly made by an Israeli official against Venezuela.
The most prominent examples of the disloyalty charge in the U.S. have alleged that Jews conspired to involve America in foreign wars against the nation’s true interest. In the years leading up to World War II, isolationists opposed American involvement in the conflict, claiming the struggle was little more a “Jewish cause.” Anti-Semites such as Charles Lindbergh inveighed against Jewish groups for “agitating for war” on behalf of a foreign people.
After the establishment of the state of Israel, the slander of disloyalty gained new momentum. Numerous authors and pundits, including Pat Buchanan, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, have written pieces lamenting the disproportionate influence of “Zionists” or the so-called “Israel Lobby,” as if a foreign government had implanted a hostile political force inside the Capitol. Regarding both wars in Iraq, we heard (and continue to hear) echoes of this charge from those who rail endlessly about “neo-cons” who “dragged the country into war.” The targets of their accusations usually Jewish.
Dual loyalty charges have appeared at the height of U.S. politics as well. In 2000, Senator Joe Lieberman was criticized in certain circles when he ran as vice-president on the Democratic ticket for the White House, accused of being more loyal to Israel than America despite his decades of public service. More recently, the disloyalty charge arose when an interviewer implausibly asked Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders whether his “dual citizenship” with Israel disqualified him to serve as US president. This claim was a total fabrication based on little more than his Jewish faith and rumors that circulated on the Internet. In another case, a Jewish student being considered for a campus governance position was publicly told in a confirmation session she could not be “impartial” because of her Jewish heritage.
Sadly, the dual loyalty insult remains among the most widely held anti-Semitic slurs around the world. In ADL’s 2015 poll on anti-Semitic attitudes, more than 30 percent of the American public asserted that Jews “are more loyal to Israel than to America.” That finding has remained virtually unchanged since ADL started polling on this question since 1964, even as anti-Semitic attitudes overall in the U.S. have fallen dramatically.
Let’s be clear: Denouncing the anti-Semitic charge of Jewish disloyalty does not mean that one has to close one’s eyes to the fact that many American Jews have emotional attachments to Israel. According to the 2013 Pew Survey, 69% of American Jews stated that they are “emotionally very attached (30%) or somewhat attached (39%) to Israel.” 87% said that caring about Israel is either “essential” or “important” to “what being Jewish means to them.” There is nothing wrong with acknowledging this.
But the observation that Israel is important to many American Jews becomes anti-Semitic when it is used to impugn Jewish loyalty or trustworthiness. After all, a connection with the state of Israel can mean any numbers of things from the ideological, to the religious, to the prosaic: from a deep commitment to Jewish nationhood and self-determination after millennia of persecution, to ties with family and friends who may live there; an appreciation for the history of Jewish life in the region dating back millennia; connections with Israeli schools or the flowering of its unique religious subcultures; an appreciation for Israeli culture or even its food. Many of these connections between American Jews and Israel are exactly the types of connections that other ethnic groups in the United States have with their ancestral cultures and countries. To single out American Jews, with their complex and varied sets of relationships with Israel, its culture and society, and to then suggest that they should not be trusted citizens, patriots, or progressives, is a perpetuation of the anti-Semitic disloyalty charge that Jews have suffered from across the centuries. It is incumbent on people of good will to intervene when the charge of disloyalty is leveled today no matter who is making the claim.