Dual Loyalty: Why Did a Neocon Vote in Both Israel and U.S.?

When attacking the ideology of the neoconservatives, the big enchildada is dual loyalty: in their hearts, do they feel allegiance to Israel? Gabriel Schoenfeld of Commentary Magazine said that this was the clear thrust of Walt and Mearsheimer’s paper, they were accusing supporters of Israel of being a fifth column. W&M have responded (in their recent rebuttal) that “we recognize that all Americans have many affinities and commitments,” including to other countries. That’s the American way. They’re echoing the Louis Brandeis line, which he came up with 90 years ago to assuage concerns about dual loyalty held by assimilated Jews who didn’t care for Zionism, such as Jacob Schiff and Arthur Sulzberger.

Where academics fear to tread, the blogosphere doesn’t. I think it’s a legitimate issue. But how to talk about it?

The question has come up lately in the Jimmy Carter brouhaha. Critics of Israel are justifiably upset that Amazon.com is not being evenhanded in its listing for Carter’s book: in its “Editorial Reviews” heading for the book—”a space normally used either for the publisher’s own description of a book, or for short, even-handed summaries from listing services such as Booklist and Publishers Weekly”—Amazon offered only the full text of a sharply-critical Washington Post review by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, accusing Carter of being unChristian in his approach to Israel/Palestine. (Amazon.com would seem to have amended the heading, to include a PW review alongside Goldberg’s.) The critics point to Goldberg’s background—that he “is a citizen of Israel as well as the United States, and that he volunteered to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, for which he worked as a guard at a prison for Palestinian detainees.” The critics are saying, You should say where Goldberg’s coming from.

(Goldberg doesn’t mention citizenship on his website bio. Henry Norr, who wrote the petition to Amazon, tells me, “Glenn Frankel of the Washington Post, in a review of [Goldberg's book] “Prisoners,” includes the following in his summary of Goldberg’s personal story: “Like all new citizens below a certain age, he enters the Israel Defense Forces…”)

The issue is a long-held concern among Jewish critics of Zionism. In 1970, a leading Jewish anti-Zionist, Rabbi Elmer Berger, learned that several Jewish Americans had served in the Israeli Defense Forces, having gained automatic citizenship in Israel.

[T]his peculiar dual nationality extends only to Jews…It is extended to citizens… who have never been to Israel and whose only relationship to that state is the Israeli presumption—written into its nationality legislation—which claims as a national anyone identified as a Jew. [In allowing them to serve without question,] the United States government…is acquiescing in this religiously-discriminatory presumption…[and it] is contrary to the constitution.

Berger worried about Jewish identity. He feared that American Jews would be called upon to define their religious identity in terms of identification with a neo-colonialist “theocratic” state that was dehumanizing Arabs. (He was right!) And he feared that American Jews would be torn in allegiance, or be seen to be torn in allegiance.

I called one of the leading experts on dual loyalty, John Fonte, of the neoconservative Hudson Institute. Fonte doesn’t write about Jews and Israel (probably a Career-Limiting Move at Hudson!), he writes about Mexico. He is concerned that in granting Mexicans in the U.S. a right to vote in Mexican elections, Mexico is making those citizens “supra-citizens,” with more rights than other citizens—and also slowing the process of American assimilation.

That’s his word: assimilation. This neocon scholar says that assimilation is a democratic value in America: for immigrants or their children, or grandchildren, to take on Americanness.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea” for American citizens to fight for or vote in other countries, Fonte said. Before America entered World War II, some Americans went over to fly with the RAF, and neocon Fonte thinks Americans joining the Israeli army are in the same category, taking part in a war that’s in America’s interests. Still he thinks that the State Department should sign off on this kind of thing on a “case by case basis.”

“I don’t think Israel’s interests and ours overlap completely,” I said.

“There’s never a complete overlap of interests,” Fonte said. “Even Britain and the U.S. differed on the Grenada invasion.”

You used to forfeit your citizenship by voting in another country or fighting for one. The law on forfeiting citizenship ended in the late 60s on a 5-4 Supreme Court vote in a—you guessed it—Israel-based case, where a Jewish-American artist who had voted in Israel wanted to move back here. Thus a 200-year precedent crumbled.

I told Fonte that the revolving door between Israel and the U.S. disturbed me. One of my relatives just came back from his “birthright” trip to Israel (“Israel is about Jews. It is about saving Jews…”) and showed me photos of American kids proudly holding guns and serving in the IDF—serving the apartheid-like Occupation. My relative’s commemorative t-shirt for the trip was IDF olive-green, to show solidarity with an army that helps to deprive Palestinians of their rights. On campuses here, Jewish students are told to wear blue and white in solidarity with Israel, something that would have horrified Elmer Berger.

“I find this confusing,” I said.

“Definitely there’s confusion,” Fonte agreed. “Right now you can do anything.”

He pointed out that after one of his articles on Mexico, fellow Hudson Institute hawk Max Singer told him that he was going to stop voting in U.S. elections, just in Israeli ones.

So a big neocon was voting in both countries? I called Singer in Israel.

“Correct,” Singer said. “I felt I should vote in one country or another but not both.”

“John Fonte said you came to that realization not that long ago.”

“Yes.”

Singer says the dual loyalty issue in his case did not arise from his being Jewish but from being a citizen of both countries. (Which he could be because he’s Jewish). He even served in the U.S. Army reserve, according to Hudson’s website. But he’s decided to be “politically active in Israel.”

Of course, he’s politically active here, too, helping to shape our foreign policy. Hudson describes him as “Senior Fellow, Board Member, Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters. Areas of Expertise: Middle East…”

I guess I’m still confused.