Sunday, March 15, 2009

Freeman's Case Sheds Light on Dual Loyalty Elephant

Charles Lane in the Washington Post and David Rothkopf on Foreign Policy make the same angry point: the Freeman affair has devolved into a regrettable argument about whether Israel's supporters have dual loyalties. Lane wants Obama to repudiate the charge for the health of our "political culture."

Even if Freeman had a perfectly legitimate grievance, even if he had been maligned, he wouldn't be entitled to respond in kind -- much less to brand large numbers of his fellow citizens as fifth columnists.

These two writers are not the first to get up in arms about what they see as a false issue. Gabriel Schoenfeld and Alan Dershowitz both responded to Walt and Mearsheimer 2 and 3 years back by saying that the scholars were implicitly accusing Israel supporters of suffering from dual loyalty conflicts, an antisemitic canard.

The answer to all these men is: Of course American supporters of Israel are vulnerable to a dual loyalty problem. Many supporters of the Iraq war have exhibited the dual-loyalty problem. For the record:

--Joe Klein wrote last year that the fact that Jewish neoconservatives pushed the Iraq war as a way of magically reforming the Middle East inevitably raised the question of their "divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel."

--John Judis of the New Republic has said that "dual loyalty" had become an "inescapable part" of the Jewish organizational support for Israel--and he included surely his own boss Marty Peretz.

--Harvard Yiddishist Ruth Wisse said at the Center for Jewish History that young American Jews should consider themselves part of Israel's "army" and just give up a couple of years of their lives to fight as advocates here, particularly against Arab voices on campus. Eric Alterman (a board member of "J Street," the alternative lobby) spotted this and said it was a call to dual loyalty. (I wrote about this here.)

--New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is a major supporter of Jewish and American institutions. His wife Myra told the Israeli press on a visit there that her sons could fight for Israel not for the U.S. "As for joining the army, over Vietnam, I would have had an issue, because I didn't believe in it. The same goes for the war in Iraq. I don't know why we're there. I would hate to have one of my sons fighting there. Iran's the problem, not Iraq. But, as far as fighting for Israel is concerned, there is no problem."

This list could go on and on. It is the reason that ex-CIA man Michael Scheuer has said that dual loyalty is an issue, and Chas Freeman has said of the foreign service, "There has been, historically, a sense that it's better not to put ardently pro-Israeli American Jews to the test by putting them in the middle of U.S.-Israeli relations, where they will anguish over where their duty lies."

This issue was created by the Zionists. Anti-Zionist Jews identified this as a problem again and again in the first half of the 1900s; they said that creating a Jewish state with a Law of Return, under which I can move to Israel as a citizen tomorrow and Mustafa Barghouti who was born in Jerusalem cannot go there, would generate poisonous questions about loyalty.

Those poisonous questions were put off for many years, until the Iraq War, when as Joe Klein wisely observed, the neocons' plans for remaking the Middle East could not be separated from their religious devotion to Israel. Or as Elliott Abrams, a high U.S. official in the Iraq war dream, wrote in the late 90s, “Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live.... [Jews] are in a permanent covenant with God and with the land of Israel and its people.”

If that kind of religious statement is not a recipe for dual loyalty, nothing is. The issue came up during the Freeman controversy when Steve Walt quipped that Freeman had spent four decades in service of the American government, while Freeman-critic Jeffrey Goldberg's idea of service was going off to serve in the Israeli army. Jacob Heilbrunn defended Goldberg in the National Interest (!), saying Goldberg's service was an act of "idealism."

Yes it was an act of idealism: of Zionist ideals, which led Goldberg to serve in an Israeli prison where Palestinians were abused.

The difficulty here, just as the anti-Zionists predicted it would be, is that the Jewish state with its discriminatory Law of Return has cast a regrettable shadow over many public American Jews' motivation. This is the reason that the banker Jacob Schiff, who saved my Russian ancestors from pogroms, wanted nothing to do with Zionism. Or for that matter why Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who built the Times into the greatest newspaper in the world, called himself an anti-Zionist. They were loyal to their homeland, the U.S., they cried. Today when Michael Oren serves in the Israeli army and then proselytizes Americans about our historical love of Zion going back to George Washington, can he be trusted? When Time Magazine's Matt Cooper, who says his grandparents were "fervent Zionists," is fed the Valerie Plame info by Scooter Libby, a fellow Jew, during the Iraq war disaster, and I ask him whether he's also a Zionist and he declines to answer me, I find that unsettling. Ditto the commitment of Rahm Emanuel, or Howard Berman.

We are talking about this for the same reason that Barack Obama was able to defeat Hillary Clinton: because the Iraq war is the greatest disaster in a generation. I could cite countless examples of Jewish neocons/liberal hawks who supported that disaster, including Tom Friedman, Paul Berman, Bill Kristol, Lawrence Kaplan, David Frum, Doug Feith, David Wurmser, and Richard Perle, who said that the fact that Saddam Hussein had paid for suicide bombers to go into Israel was a reason for us to go to war with Iraq. To which the only response must be emphatic: Israel's war is not our war; and the confusion over this matter has killed a great number of innocent people.

As the Freeman case shows, the Iraq war chapter will not be closed until the special relationship with Israel is publicly debated, and till the dual-loyalty issue too is explored. Does my opinion carry influence? Don't worry, reader, it does not: I have said as much for years, and god knows the politicians and journalists and intellectuals have ignored me for years; and even realists Walt and Mearsheimer sidestepped this issue--leaving me, a lefty, to talk about "the American interest"! And still, the issue edges into our debate, for a simple reason: it is important [and still screaming to be addressed].

Source article from Mondoweiss is here.

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