The Right's Game-Playing With 'Dual Loyalty" and 'Anti-Semitism' Accusations

As our political establishment takes new and disturbing steps towards a more confrontational approach with Iran, the effort to stomp out any discussion of the role Israel plays in that policy has once again intensified. Last week, Joe Klein -- basically out of the blue -- observed that while many advocates of an attack on Iraq (which once included Klein) were motivated by "neocolonial" fantasies or ensuring access to Iraq's oil, many other war proponents were motivated by their allegiance to Israel:

The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives -- people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary -- plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.

Since then, Klein has escalated the provocative rhetoric, writing several days ago:

You want evidence of divided loyalties? How about the "benign domino theory" that so many Jewish neoconservatives talked to me about -- off the record, of course -- in the runup to the Iraq war, the idea that Israel's security could be won by taking out Saddam, which would set off a cascade of disaster for Israel's enemies in the region? As my grandmother would say, feh! Do you actually deny that the casus belli that dare not speak its name wasn't, as I wrote in February 2003, a desire to make the world safe for Israel? Why the rush now to bomb Iran, a country that poses some threat to Israel but none -- for the moment -- to the United States . . . unless we go ahead, attack it, and the mullahs unleash Hezbollah terrorists against us? Do you really believe the mullahs would stage a nuclear attack on Israel, destroying the third most holy site in Islam and killing untold numbers of Muslims? I am not ruling out the use of force against Iran -- it may come to that -- but you folks seem to embrace it gleefully.

Then, after Joe Lieberman appeared on Face the Nation last weekend to (as usual) agitate for war with Iran, Klein not-so-cryptically asked: "Again, I wonder why Lieberman is so fixated on Iran."

Needless to say, the assault on Klein has been as vicious, furious and dishonest as it was predictable. As Mickey Kaus notes:

Max Boot, Pete Wehner, Jennifer Rubin, Paul Mirengoff and Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League all wrote confidently outraged responses to Klein's raising of the "divided loyalties" possibility -- and, indeed, it's not the sort of assertion that has typically gone unpunished in the past. When Klein stubbornly failed to back down in a second post, Wehner somewhat smugly anticipated his near-certain demise:

It's like watching a movie that you now know is going to end very badly, and very sadly.

Regarding the ADL's condemnation of Klein, Kaus wrote:

Note to [ADL's Abraham] Foxman: I worked at The New Republic! The magazine supported the war. I consider it's [sic] editor, Martin Peretz, to be a friend and mentor. But if you think Marty's views are uninfluenced by his affinity for Israel -- and that the views of many of the eminent neocons who visited our offices were uninfluenced by "matters of faith" and/or religious identity -- then you don't know Marty and you don't know The New Republic. In fact, you're more than a bit clueless. But you are not clueless.

This attempt to "punish" people who note the role which allegiance to Israel plays in many advocates' desire for a militaristic American Middle East policy has always been an attempt to punish people for expressing a self-evidently true and important point. But that's only the second worst aspect of it. The worst aspect of it is that those who seek to place the "divided loyalty" point off limits are often the ones who most aggressively wield that same claim -- only they do so in service of their right-wing agenda. They seek to create a climate where "dual loyalty" arguments can be exploited by them for political gain, but cannot be spoken of by their political opponents upon pain of being subjected to exploitative, ugly accusations of anti-semitism and other crimes.

As I've documented previously, the very same right-wing advocates who scream "anti-semitism" at anyone, such as Klein, who raises the issue of devotion to Israel themselves constantly argue that American Jews do -- and should -- cast their votes in American elections based upon what is best for Israel. They nakedly trot out the "dual loyalty" argument in order to manipulate American Jews to vote Republican in U.S. elections (e.g.: "the GOP supports Israel and Obama doesn't; therefore, American Jews shouldn't vote for Obama"), while screaming "anti-semitism" the minute the premise is used by their political opponents. The Weekly Standardran articles openly arguing that American Jews should vote Republican because the GOP is better for Israel, and Joe Lieberman runs around South Florida telling Jewish voters that they should vote for McCain because Obama isn't good for Israel.

The most recent blatant example of nakedly exploiting "dual loyalty" and "anti-Semitism" claims comes from Commentary's Jennifer Rubin. Rubin was one of those most viciously attacking Klein, accusing him last week of spouting what she called "the anti-Semitic argument of 'divided loyalties.'" Yet today -- barely a week later -- Rubin has a long Op-Ed in The Jerusalem Post which is probably the most unabashed expression of this "dual loyalty" argument that I've seen in quite some time.

Her column is devoted to arguing that many American Jews -- despite their commitment to political liberalism -- are (justifiably) reluctant to vote for Obama because "some Jews are incapable of deluding themselves that Obama would be the most resolute candidate in defending Israel." What is that if not an argument that American Jewish voters cast their votes in American elections -- and should do so -- based on what is best for Israel, i.e. for he who is "the most resolute candidate in defending Israel"?

In fact, Rubin's entire column is devoted to the explicit claim that Obama is insufficiently devoted to Israel's interests and, therefore, many American Jews are rightly skeptical of his fitness to be the American President:

The Obama defenders are irked that not all Jews accept at face value Obama's expressions of devotion to Israel and commitment to her security. . . . Many Jewish Obama doubters are convinced that Israel faces a true existential threat unlike any in 35 years. . . . The Obama skeptics do not for a moment believe that Obama, in the face of domestic and international pressure similar to what Nixon faced, would rise to the occasion at a critical moment in Israel's history and "tell them to send everything that can fly" . . . .
AND IF any further proof were needed, Obama's actions with regard to the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, the measure to classify the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization, should settle the question of Obama's intestinal fortitude when it comes to Israel. . . . Once his nomination was secured, Obama told those assembled at the AIPAC convention that he supported classification of the Iranian National Guard as a terrorist organization, a move he well understood was important to Israel's security and to AIPAC's members. Yet under just a smidgen of political pressure during the primary race, he had not been able to muster the will to support a modest measure which inured to Israel's benefit.

Indeed the temptation to believe in Obama's bland promises of support for Israel is a tempting one for liberal Jews. If they can convince themselves that he will be "fine on Israel," no conflict arises between their liberal impulses and their concern for Israel. The urge to believe is a powerful thing, especially when the alternative is an intellectual or moral quandary. . . .

BUT SOME Jews are incapable of deluding themselves that Obama would be the most resolute candidate in defending Israel. . . . And that is why these obstinate Obama skeptics, some even after a lifetime of Democratic voting, will not pull the lever for him. For them some things rank higher than even the top items on the liberal political agenda. The risk is, in their minds, too great that when Israel needs help the most, Obama will buckle and Israel will be crushed.

It's just not possible to find a more explicit accusation of "dual loyalty" than Rubin repeatedly makes in her column. She just claims over and over that American Jewish voters are guided in their political choices by what is best for Israel -- exactly what she called an "anti-semitic argument" when made by Klein -- and she expressly insists that the American President be devoted to promoting Israeli interests, and that this is what American Jewish voters care about. That's the "dual loyalty" argument in its purest form.

But because this claim is put in service of advancing a right-wing agenda -- namely, an attack on Obama and support for a hard-line policy towards Iran -- it's deemed perfectly acceptable. And therein lies the most important point.

"Anti-semitism" accusations have been cynically exploited for so long by right-wing advocates as a bludgeon to silence debates over Middle East policy and for cheap political gain that the accusation has become trivialized to the point of irrelevance. Most ironically of all, the ADL -- whose ostensible central mission is to battle the trivialization of anti-Semitism and Nazism -- has played a leading role in this degradation, constantly exploiting its once-credible imprimatur in highly politicized ways which have nothing to do with real anti-semitism (such as Klein's perfectly legitimate commentary) and everything to do with promoting a hard-line policy in the Middle East and against Iran which is now one of the ADL's top priorities.

Smearing people as anti-Semites for cheap political gain is repellent in its own right and merits a response. But this tactic is particularly dangerous now, as the pressure is obviously being ratcheted up in numerous circles to pursue a far more bellicose policy towards Iran. Responding to the types of disgusting smears that are in Rubin's column and many other places, Obama not only appeared before AIPAC last month and vowed that "the danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat"; that Iran's "Quds force has rightly been labeled a terrorist organization"; and "I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," but also, when asked last week by a Fox News host to play a "word association game" whereby he should say the first word that comes into his mind, Obama -- when the word was "Iran" -- responded as follows: "threat."

Whether Iran is really a threat to the U.S. (as opposed to Israel) is an absolutely critical matter to examine. It's just not tolerable to allow polemicists from Commentary and Weekly Standard to run around using the "dual loyalty" argument and "anti-semitism" smear to try to manipulate American Jews into voting for McCain and supporting hard-line policies toward Iran, while simultaneously screaming "anti-Semite" at those who argue that an attack on Iran would serve (and is motivated by) Israeli interests, not America's interests. That is a perfectly legitimate issue -- a central issue -- to be freely discussed.

Like everyone else, I don't know whether there is really any serious intent in the Bush administration to initiate some sort of attack on Iran (many very credible analysts highly doubt it will happen). But the risk is substantial enough -- and the situation is dangerous enough -- that free and open debate about that topic is critical. A prerequisite to such debate is preventing war-hungry, right-wing advocates from employing duplicitous and manipulative claims of "anti-semitism" and "dual loyalty" to stifle such discussions and intimidate opponents of a war-seeking approach to Iran.

UPDATE: In Salon today, Gregory Levey has an excellent article examining the role Israel is playing in the presidential election and the Joe-Lieberman-led effort to smear Obama as "anti-Israel" among Jewish voters. Levey correctly points out that "the vast majority of American Jews don't cast their votes based on considerations for Israel" -- a fact confirmed by a recent poll from the nonpartisan Israel Project -- but some extremely ugly tactics are being hauled out by the Right directed at those who do.

UPDATE II: Whenever I write about this issue, I typically avoid the term "dual loyalty" or "divided loyalty" not because they're inaccurate -- they're not -- but because they have some ugly connotations and ugly history. Here, Klein used the term "divided loyalty," and ultimately, it can hardly be described as inaccurate based on the Right's own advocacy -- i.e., if an American voter is casting votes based on what's best for another country, it's hard to argue that it isn't "dual loyalty." As Klein notes today, "[Jennifer] Rubin's description of the interests of American Jews is an embarrassment that plays into the worst antisemitic stereotypes," in that she explicitly calls for American Jews to vote in a U.S. election based on Israel. What is she advocating if not "dual loyalty" or "divided loyalty"?

I think the broader issue is that there's nothing inherently wrong with "dual loyalty." Countless voting blocs in America possess it to one degree or another -- Irish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Catholics, Christians, Muslims, naturalized citizens of all sorts and those who identify their heritage with another country. In some sense, "dual loyalty" or even "multiple loyalties" is a perfectly benign aspect of America's heterogeneity, the fact that people are "American" and also other things. The point isn't that there's anything inherently wrong with or unusual about "dual loyalty" in this sense. There isn't.

What's destructive here is the way the "dual loyalty" manifests -- the policy desires it produces. And to the extent it plays a role in policy debates -- as it does in all sorts of debates, and certainly in debates over the Middle East -- it ought to be something that people are free to acknowledge and discuss without being defamed and smeared.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.


© 2023 Salon