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Monday, July 9, 2007

Israel and the Jews: The dual loyalty thing, and the identity thing

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2007/07/israel-and-jews-dual-loyalty-thing-and.html

The interesting part of this article might just be here:
 
In this respect American Jewry's support for Israel still runs along the tracks laid down in the early decades of the 20th century by the foundational thinkers of American Zionism, the great Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) and the great, if less-known, social philosopher Horace Kallen (1882-1974), who coined the term "cultural pluralism." These thinkers conceived of Zionism as a facet of the liberal Progressivism that they championed in the US. They saw American Zionism, indeed robust American Jewishness, not as a dual or contradictory, loyalty but as complementary features of a broader loyalty to the liberal ideal as a whole.

Kallen and Brandeis were making, in a sense, two arguments: That American identity, when thought through to its deepest roots and intentions, yielded a much broader harvest of loyalties, aspirations, affiliations and values than the distinctively Anglo-Saxon heritage of its founders; and that Zionism could and ought to be moving along the same basic continuum as Americanism, towards a liberal polity that would enable a range of people and minorities to flourish by the lights of their own historical experiences.
 
Actually, American Zionism, or "Christian Zionism" goes back further than that. It is much more specific, and it involved non-Jews far more than it involved Jews, beginnings with the pilgrims of the Mayflower and the early New England settlers.
 
Ami Isseroff
 
 

The charge of 'dual loyalty' should force American Jews to think hard about the very real geopolitical dilemmas facing the US and Israel and about themselves and their lives, the meaning of their commitments to Jewish survival and to Jewish values
 
Yehudah Mirsky Published:  07.09.07, 07:26 / Israel Jewish Scene
 

"Dual loyalty" is back. No matter one's view of US Mideast policy as such, there is no doubting that the pejorative of "dual loyalty" – by which is meant "contradictory loyalty" – is in currency and increasingly credible in ways not seen in the last fifty years.
 
This is of course, a deeply chilling development. But it is also a spur to thinking about the broader issues of Jewish identity in America. Among the topics being taken up by the working groups at this week's Conference on the Future of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, organized by the Jewish People Policy Institute, are Geopolitics and Jewish Identity; this question is one in which both those issues are joined, in powerful, complex, and illuminating ways.
 
The Walt-Mearshimer affair, the controversy sparked in March of 2006 by an essay written by two very distinguished American political scientists in the London Review of Books, and argu ing that American supporters of Israel were monolithically advocating policies running very counter to America' national interest, was both catalyst and bellwether.

Remarkably clumsy and intellectually dreary accusations that American Jewry and its well-placed minions had willfully dragged America into a needless and draining war came from two of the country's most respected political scientists. The fact that genuinely eminent scholars were drawn to these formulations at all is an expression of the dark post-9/11 times in which we live, when the world seems unpredictably unsafe and the United States is less certain of its course in that world..
 
What does 'loyalty' mean here?
 
The question of "dual loyalty" is among other things an interesting point of entry into several dimensions of American-Jewish identity. But first, let's put some things on the table. What does it mean if Jews, some at least and perhaps many, might vote for an American president first and foremost based on his policies toward Israel and only secondarily, or, in rare cases, not at all, on what one thinks of his views on a range of issues? What would it mean for an American Jew to advocate a specific policy injurious to the US but helpful to Israel?

These are not unreasonable questions, and can fairly be asked of any discrete group, certainly one with strong ties to a foreign country. Indeed, the American idea of citizenship is premised on a shared civic identity binding together disparate groups with other sorts of identities, some primal, others less so. American political thinkers from the Federalists onward have tried to understand how this sort of essentially liberal and cosmopolitan citizenship can weave together a polity.
 
It seems to this writer fair to say that any American citizen who advocates a policy that can in no way reasonably be construed as serving America's interests, and indeed runs counter to America's interests, to the health and survival of American government and society, including its fundamental values, is no longer making a good-faith policy argument and can only justify themselves if at all on humanitarian grounds.

At the same time, just what is in America's national interest is not always self-evident. When I served in the State Department, for instance, we had passionate arguments over whether America should link its economic ties to China on that country's human rights practices. I strongly – at times bitterly – disagreed and fought with the people on the other side of that argument, but I never doubted either their patriotism, or the good faith in which they were putting forth their side of the argument as serving America's national interest.

Yes, American Jews are, as a rule, genuinely supportive of Israel, often – though not always – with greater intensity than their support of other causes and political programs, and this in turn results from the roles which Israel plays in their understanding of their own Jewish identity.

While American Jews differ, at times deeply, in their assessments of specific Israeli policies, they do as a rule fundamentally support Israel's essential survival and security. They are driven to this not only by a deep, even if regularly inchoate, commitment to Israel as the ultimate guarantor of the Jewish people's survival, but by an idea of Israel as well.

In this respect American Jewry's support for Israel still runs along the tracks laid down in the early decades of the 20th century by the foundational thinkers of American Zionism, the great Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) and the great, if less-known, social philosopher Horace Kallen (1882-1974), who coined the term "cultural pluralism." These thinkers conceived of Zionism as a facet of the liberal Progressivism that they championed in the US. They saw American Zionism, indeed robust American Jewishness, not as a dual or contradictory, loyalty but as complementary features of a broader loyalty to the liberal ideal as a whole.

Kallen and Brandeis were making, in a sense, two arguments: That American identity, when thought through to its deepest roots and intentions, yielded a much broader harvest of loyalties, aspirations, affiliations and values than the distinctively Anglo-Saxon heritage of its founders; and that Zionism could and ought to be moving along the same basic continuum as Americanism, towards a liberal polity that would enable a range of people and minorities to flourish by the lights of their own historical experiences.

For them Zionism was, in a deep and real sense, Americanism by another name and with a different, though not contradictory, historical inflection. Their commitments to Zionism and to Americanism did not, to their mind, conflict, because they sincerely saw each very much as a reflection of the other.
 
Subsequently, of course, the Holocaust deepened the American Jewish commitment to Israel, lending it power, and even terror, and the experience of the 1967 war further catalyzed American Jewry's support for Israel. However, the ways in which American Jews think about Israel and how their support for it registers with their Americanness still very much resonates along the lines of Kallen and Brandeis.
 
 
 
Interests and values and the present moment
In other words, in defending Israel, the broad mass of American Jews are acting out of a sense of interests and values, from the belief that Israel guarantees the survival of both American and Israeli Jews – both physical and cultural. In many ways, the Israel they are supporting is a reflection of their own liberal democratic values or at least not so far-removed as to make supporting it morally unacceptable (the continuing arguments over the present state and future disposition of the West Bank notwithstanding).
 

All politics is an amalgam of interests and values, and while the two never can be entirely divorced, it helps to sift them out for the sake of clarity. Interests are the imperatives dictated by physical survival. Values are the principles whereby we order our sense of what survival means, and what survival is for. They are the concepts with which we define the terms of meaningful survival and guide our purposive choices towards the kind of world we wish to see.
 

The oft-remarked question of the respective roles of interests versus values in foreign policy, though it ought to be a universal dilemma, is in acute fashion a peculiarly American dilemma. The commingling of these two sets of concerns is a hallmark, and to some, a fatal flaw, of American diplomacy and indeed of America's own sense of itself as a republic.
 

Thus while it is hard to imagine many European governments fundamentally supporting Israel, such as they do, in the absence of the staggering and nearly supernatural moral burden of the Holocaust, it is less difficult to understand why America would do such a thing, even when it seems to run counter to some of its bolder geopolitical interests.
 

American support for Israel reflects a confluence of both interests and values. What marks the present historical moment is that both those sources of support are beginning to give way to other currents. America's interests have been so badly damaged by the catastrophic mishandling of Iraq that for arch-Realists like Walt and Mearsheimer, the only possible explanation can be the malign influence of an ultimately foreign body which does not have those interests at heart.
 
 
 
On the value-side, we see the increasing illiberalism of the liberal classes, of whom Professor Tony Judt is perhaps the most articulate exponent. For those like him, the Jewish exercise in political sovereignty cannot be anything other than a retrograde chauvinism, for the sake of whose extirpation one may happily throw a flawed, if boisterous, democracy to the dogs. Taken together, the traditional basis for American support for Israel seems to be eroding, and those who persist in such support are more easily depicted as both unconcerned with American lives, and suspiciously immoral.
 
 
 
What does this all mean?
 
The ostensible dilemma of "dual loyalty" is in some ways one of the more wrenching forms of the contemporary identity dilemmas coursing through the world today. In many countries, the welter of forces as know as globalization, the increasing recognition of the complex and multi-layered quality of identities and the emergence of "identity politics" in its various forms, is forcing many, at times painfully, to think through the meanings of their belongings and the moral claims they can make on those belongings' behalf..
 

Thus the questions raised, however clumsily, by Walt & Mearsheimer and Judt should if nothing else, force American Jews to think hard about the very real geopolitical dilemmas facing the US and Israel and about themselves and their lives, the meaning of their commitments to Jewish survival and to Jewish values.
 

Indeed these challenges can serve as a spur – and not only to US Jews – persuasively to rearticulate core values of Jewishness and of Zionism in light of the moral and geopolitical complexities of the contemporary world.
 
 
 
The writer is a fellow of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, and a former US State Department official. This article is reprinted with permission from MyJewishLearning.com
 
 


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2007/07/israel-and-jews-dual-loyalty-thing-and.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.

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