I do hope this is the last post I do on this topic.
Let’s be clear: Ilan Omar did not accuse Jews of dual loyalty. Her remarks should be read in full context, which is usefully quoted by Phyllis Bennis, but here is the offensive phrase she used: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Substitute “uncritical support” for “allegiance” and there would be no grounds for offense. But is “uncritical support” altogether different from “allegiance”? Once again, her choice of language was dubious, but the reaction to her words was vastly disproportionate.
Besides, Omar didn’t single out Jews. Do I need to repeat that? She didn’t single out Jews; she has thankfully acknowledged support from Jews who are critical of Israel and she is clearly aware that allegiance/uncritical support for Israel extends far beyond Jews. Paul Waldman elaborates on the latter theme in an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post. Waldman cites the case of a Texas speech pathologist who sued over a requirement, pushed especially by Republicans, that she sign a pledge not to support anti-Israel boycotts as a condition for public school employment. Waldman notes that
…[T]he Texas Republican Party is not exactly an organization dominated by Jews. When Gov. Greg Abbott (R) — also not a Jew — proclaims that ‘Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies,’ he’s expressing his dual loyalty.”
And, of course, it’s not just Republicans. Criticizing Omar for her offensive remarks, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Ca) added “… [Q]uestioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.” Would Vargas say that about any other country? Is questioning the US-British relationship “unacceptable”? The US-Canadian? Evidently Vargas demands uncritical support for—you might even call it “allegiance to”—Israel.
Anyway, I don’t think that the attribution of dual loyalty or dual allegiance is objectively that terrible. Partly, that reflects my own quirky views: I’m not much into patriotism. If you asked me if I consider myself a loyal American, I could not give you an uncomplicated answer.
But mixed or complicated loyalties are especially understandable, I think, for Jews. The state of Israel, after all, was the answer to two millennia of Jewish hopes and prayers for a homeland and haven from persecution. It would be surprising, would it not, if at least some Jews didn’t identify with Israel with a fervor and passion that compare to the sentiments that they feel for their country of citizenship? Especially Jews who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust and the founding of Israel? My own personal observation is that such people do indeed exist.
So, yes, the over-reaction to Omar’s remarks undoubtedly reflects for many Jews a sincerely heartfelt sensitivity to what can be interpreted as an ancient anti-Semitic trope. But I think that there’s often a mixture of motives at work. I think that intimations of dual loyalty are rejected with such self-righteous vehemence because they contain an uncomfortable element of truth.