Dual-Loyalty Canard Rears Ugly Head Again

February, 1996 - The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent

Perhaps the most famous metaphor for the precariousness of Jewish existence in the Old Country was the fiddler of Broadway's "Fiddler on the Roof." A scrawny figure scratching out a tune, the fiddle was in constant danger of being blown of his wobbly perch.

Thank God, America is different. Here, Jews have been allowed full participation in political life. We have moved quickly to advance our interests and ideals at all levels of government and have aggressively defended our right as Americans to do so.

But every once in a while, we are vividly reminded what this struggle is all about.

In October, the U.S. Defense Department issued a memo implying that Jewish Americans might betray their country calling Israel an "economic/industrial threat" to American interests. The three-page document, which just came to light last month, also cites convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as an exemplar of American Jewish dual loyalties.

The notion that Jewish Americans are less trustworthy than our fellow citizens has elicited some well-deserved outrage from Jewish defense organizations and our elected officials. Rep. Jon Fox, R-Pa., who has pressed the issue, says he hopes that the memo is "just the work of one twisted professional" in the Department of Defense.

Such hopes are laudable but also run contrary to available evidence. There is, sadly, a long history of institutionalized anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment in the "permanent American government" - the segments of the State and Defense departments and the intelligence agencies that do not have to answer to the voters every two, four or six years.

In fact, to pick on Pollard is particularly odious, given the recent revelations that he was set up as scapegoat for the far more serious betrayals of the spy for Russia, Aldrich Ames. What's more, Pollard experienced the same bigoted attitudes during his tenure at Navy intelligence - he was told, after inquiring about Iraqi missile capabilities, that "Jews are overly sensitive about poison gas" - as those that appear to lie behind the latest offending memo.

When will we finally see an end to the canard of dual-loyalty leveled at Jewish Americans? Will the outmoded sensibilities of some departments of our "permanent government" ever change?

More than 80 years ago, Justice Louis D. Brandeis addressed this issue head on, in the hope of forever laying the dual-loyalty issue to rest:

"Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. ... Every Irish American who contributed toward advancing home rule was a better man and a better American for the sacrifice he made. Every American Jew, who aides in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likely be a better man and a better American for doing so."

Fortunately, the substance of Brandeis' message has largely been accepted in American discourse. Unfortunately, the last bugaboos of an outmoded nativism still need to be challenged when they raise their ugly heads.