Antisemites frequently suspect Jews of holding allegiance only to fellow Jews and to a uniquely Jewish agenda. Jews are accordingly seen as untrustworthy neighbors and citizens, as if they are inherently disloyal — or have inherently dual loyalties.
One primary origin of this myth is in the New Testament: Judas is said to have betrayed Jesus. The name has since become synonymous with “traitor,” and this foundational story has been used to invoke accusations of Jewish disloyalty for thousands of years. The Quran and hagiographic Islamic texts also contain passages that question Jewish scrupulousness.1Norman A. Stillman, “Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism in the Arab World Prior to 1948,” in Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A History (Oxford University Press, 2010), 212-214. Defining themselves against their roots in Judaism and the Old Testament, early Christian and Islamic scripture contain traditions of portraying Jews as wrongdoers who cannot be trusted. These traditions contributed to anti-Jewish measures throughout the medieval and early modern eras, especially in Christian Europe, where Jews were periodically blamed for communal ills, such as plagues or murders.
During the Enlightenment, European nations heatedly debated whether Jews were worthy of civil rights. Some social commentators and politicians considered Jews physically unfit for military service and incapable of genuine patriotism. And even after Jews had gained legal citizenship in much of Europe, racial science denigrated Jews and other minorities. Nation-states often defined their own collective character against the Jewish “other,” perceived as the minority most able to pass as Christian and, thus, to deceive the Christian majority. One of the most infamous cases of the disloyalty charge is the Dreyfus Affair. While Dreyfus’ sentence was eventually overturned, the entire affair underscored a widespread mistrust of Jews.2Richard S. Golsan, “Antisemitism in Modern France: Dreyfus, Vichy, and Beyond,” in Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A History (Oxford University Press, 2010), 144-145.
Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, Hitler and other antisemites baselessly blamed German Jewish soldiers for stabbing their army in the back. Hitler thus staked future victories for Germany on the eradication of Jews, whom he viewed as disloyal.3Doris L. Bergen, “Antisemitism in the Nazi Era,” in Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A History (Oxford University Press, 2010), 199.
Throughout the 20th century, Jews unfairly accused of disloyalty have been blamed for fanning the flames of social and political unrest. Jews frequently were associated with the rise of communism and socialism, and cast as agitators.
In Arab lands, the presence of Jewish citizens historically was conflated with the perceived threats of the growing movement of Zionism. Arab Jews were frequently suspected of putting a so-called “Zionist agenda” above the interests of their fellow citizens and, thus, subjected to attacks and legal persecutions. In Egypt and Libya, for example, hundreds of Jews were massacred in 1945 by anti-Jewish rioters who also destroyed synagogues and Jewish communal buildings.4Avi Beker, “The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 17,no. 3/4 (Fall 2005): 10. Following the United Nation’s approval of a Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, more violent rallies broke out against Jewish communities in the Middle East.5Lyn Julius, Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018), xiv. In May and December of that year, Iraqi Jews were accused of poisoning Arab children and of attempting to pollute drinking water with cholera; 1,500 Iraqi Jews were dismissed from public service, Jewish banks lost their authorization and many Jews were imprisoned, some even hanged, for the charge of “Zionist and communist crimes.”6Avi Beker, “The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 17,no. 3/4 (Fall 2005): 10.
After the founding of the State of Israel, the suspicion of Jews as double agents persisted in Arab countries. As one leading journalist writes, Jews in Arab countries became “hostages to the conflict with Zionism,” punished on behalf of their co-religionists thousands of miles away.7Lyn Julius, Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018), 125. 1948 saw thousands of Jews arrested in Egypt, along with fatal attacks, synagogue burnings and seizing of private and public Jewish property.8Avi Beker, “The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 17,no. 3/4 (Fall 2005): 10. Following Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, Egypt rounded up all of its Jewish men and arrested them as “Israeli” prisoners of war.9Lyn Julius, Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018), 125. Jews in Iraq were fired from jobs, barred from higher education and placed under state surveillance. Iraqi Jews’ telephone lines were cut, their bank accounts frozen. When the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party took over Iraq in 1963, they went as far as to restrict Jews’ movement and force Jews to carry yellow identification cards. Even more drastically, in 1969 the Ba’ath Party executed 12 Jews accused of spying for Israel and America, hanging nine of them publicly in Baghdad’s Liberty Square before a crowd of 500,000 citizens who danced in celebration.10Lyn Julius, Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018), 137. Understandably, many of those Arab Jews who did become Zionists in these years came to support Israel primarily as a matter of necessity, having internalized their endangerment as Jews elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.11Lyn Julius, Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018), 120-121.
Further west, despotic leaders continued to use suspicion of Jews to advance their own political agenda and solidify power in the postwar landscape. In 1953, Joseph Stalin concocted the “Doctors’ Plot,” which cast a group of Soviet Jewish doctors as disloyal citizens. The doctors falsely were accused of plotting to assassinate members of the Kremlin, jailed and tortured. Some historians have theorized that the affair was meant to lay the groundwork for a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Jews — which only was averted when Stalin died before the doctors could be put on public trial.12Heinz-Dietrich Löwe, “Antisemitism in Russia and the Soviet Union,” in Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A History (Oxford University Press, 2010), 187-188.
In the United States, Jews likewise were subject to suspicion of their true allegiances. Despite having a Jewish Secretary of State and Jewish supporters, President Nixon thought a “Jewish cabal” in his administration was working against him, a distrust that perhaps stemmed from his belief that Jews were “born spies.”13Stephen J. Whitfield, “Nixon and the Jews,” Patterns of Prejudice 44, no. 5 (2010): 445, 447. Jews in public service have also been accused of having dual loyalties between the U.S. and Israel. As a former State Department official wrote in The New York Times, Jews who wanted to work on Middle East policy were for a long time viewed with skepticism:14Dennis B. Ross, “Memories of an Anti-Semitic State Department,” New York Times, Sept. 26, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/opinion/contributors/valerie-plame-antisemitic-state-department.html.
“When I began working in the Pentagon during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, there was an unspoken but unmistakable assumption: If you were Jewish, you could not work on the Middle East because you would be biased…Jews could not be objective and would be partial to Israel to the exclusion of American interests.”
Jews have been imagined as incapable of objectivity regarding Israel and have been assumed to be partial to Israel to the exclusion of American interests.
- In January 2019, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) tweeted that senators promoting legislation against boycotts of Israel “forgot what country they represent.”15Amir Tibon, “U.S. Jewish Groups Strike Back at Rashida Tlaib: ‘Tell Us More About Dual-loyalty’,” Haaretz, Jan. 8, 2019, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-u-s-jewish-groups-strike-back-at-rashida-tlaib-tell-us-more-about-dual-loyalty-1.6822493. Her comment reinforced dangerous tropes about Jews’ alleged disloyalty.
- President Donald Trump repeatedly has questioned the loyalty of American Jews. He told White House reporters that “If Jews vote for a Democrat they are being disloyal, very disloyal, to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”16Felicia Somnez, “Trump says that Jewish people who vote for Democrats are ‘very disloyal to Israel,’ denies his remarks are anti-Semitic,” The Washington Post, August 21 2019, https://wapo.st/2tAxCNq.
- “Mr. Lieberman, as an Orthodox Jew, is also a dual citizen of Israel. The State of Israel is not synonymous with the United States, and the test he would probably have to pass is: Would he be more faithful to the Constitution of the United States than to the ties that any Jewish person would have to the State of Israel?” – Louis Farrakhan speaking about former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, 2000.
- “John Bolton [is] a dual citizen for instance of Israel and America….There’s no question that there are a number in — during the Bush years — there were a number of dual citizens, citizens of Israel, citizens of America who were making policy.” – former U.S. Congressman Jason Lewis, (R-MN) 2013 17Kaczynski, Andrew, “GOP Senate candidate Jason Lewis said Republicans have ‘dual loyalties’ to Israel, ‘Jewish lobby’ controls the party,” CNN, Sept. 20, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/20/politics/jason-lewis-israel-kfile/index.html.
While many Jews feel a connection to Israel for religious, ideological, familial or emotional reasons, it is not so different from the way other ethnic or cultural groups have connections to their own ancestral countries. Korean Americans may feel similarly about Korea, or Indian Americans about India.
In a nation of immigrants, people can be loyal American citizens and still feel emotional attachments to other countries.
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