About Me

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 4th reflections

Thanks to the Assoc of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), we just had an early July 4th celebration in Israel at the Jerusalem Cinemateque - a festival which included hot dogs, apple pie, donuts, a dj playing American music, & the showing of American films.

Though my new national identity, as an Israeli, is something I cherish, and think about often, I never really had any doubt that my Israeli citizenship would diminish the degree to which I feel, and am passionate about, being American. And, I'm pretty certain that my fellow American Olim would share this feeling - a confidence that there's no contradiction between our two identities..a citizen of two nations who share many important political and social values, and have been allies since the day, 61 years ago, that the modern Jewish state was born.

However, as Jews have historically had their loyalty to their host country questioned no matter how faithful and devoted they were and as, later, after the establishment of the state of Israel, such Jews - even among the overwhelming majority of Jews who don't make Aliyah - often had to face the charge of dual loyalty (especially with Jews who engage in political activity connected with Israel) I think a bit of clarification is necessary.

To show why I think those questioning the loyalty of American Jews who are passionate about Israel, or possess Israeli citizenship, haven't fully thought through their argument, consider this.

A question posed to Jews, at times, who have dual citizenship is who, precisely, do we ultimately support more...who, when it comes down to it, would be more loyal to, in the event of a military confrontation between the two states. And, though there is much of this charge to break down, suffice to say that such a query would seem bizarre if posed to an American possessing dual citizenship with one of our other allies whose laws also allow such a bifurcated identity. There are, for instance, many Americans possessing dual citizenship with Great Britain and I almost can't imagine such an individual being asked which side they would choose if some military conflagration would occur between the U.S. and the British, because, well, I think such a charge would seem quite odd. The chance, we would all agree, of such an event occurring is nearly zero. I mean, is there something about being an Israeli that is inherently less consistent with also being an American than being a Brit and an American?

Alright, my accuser is now saying, its agreed that such a question is quite silly but, they insist, it isn't odd to inquire about the role that an American Jew's loyalty to his religious homeland taints his judgment when engaging in the American political process concerning Israel. How does one know, he asks, that a Jew is acting on behalf of what is in the best interest of the U.S., especially when it involves foreign policy decisions, as opposed to Israel.

To this I would answer by explaining that political lobbying, by its very nature, is based on a decision that the advocate makes to lobby on behalf of one thing and not the other. That is, when lobbyists for the American Assoc of Retired Persons (AARP) advocated on behalf of the recently enacted prescription drug benefit, nobody accused them of not caring about the health needs of children, despite the fact by devoting x amount of resources to a drug benefit invariably means that less funding will be available for the health needs of poor kids.

Or, put another way, does someone who lost a family member to cancer and then decides to lobby the NIH on behalf of greater cancer research have less credibility than someone lobbying for such research who hasn't lost someone? I mean, doesn't it come down to the weight of the facts and logic employed to make the case for more research? Jews who has a strong emotional connection to Israel (or who have family or friends who live there) should be able to lobby for continued or increased U.S. support for Israel and only be judged on the merits of the argument.

For, it is understood, that when you decide in a democratic process to lobby on behalf of something, you are making a decision to lobby on behalf of A and not B. You aren't saying that B isn't worthy, just that A is especially worthy and, since you can't possibly advocate on behalf of every worthy project, you make a choice. That's politics pure and simple.

It doesn't mean you don't believe there are other valuable things to advocate on behalf of, but you have, for any number of reasons, decided to choose one over the other. Why? Well, in the case of advocates for AARP, many are no doubt senior citizens themselves, and motivated by a combination of self-interest - that is, they wish to ensure that retirees like themselves don't go broke paying for the medication they need to stay alive - and their sense of what's in the best interest of the country...two factors that they don't view as necessarily being in conflict with one another. Likewise, Jews who advocate for Israel of course act to a large degree out of their concern for the survival of the only Jewish state in the world, but also because they are convinced that such advocacy is in no way inconsistent with the values and interests of America.

So, if someone wants to make the case that such Israel advocacy is wrong-headed....that policies which serve to enhance Israel's security are inherently inconsistent with America's security, then fine....make the case and let the political process play out, just as it does with countless other issues facing the nation. But, its quite another thing entirely to make what ultimately is an ad hominem attack on the Jewish community - questioning the patriotism and motivation of Jews without addressing the substance of the foreign policy debate. I think the onus is on those wishing to change the historic support American has given to Israel to honestly demonstrate why the U.S.-Israeli alliance should be downgraded, based on facts and logic, not on scurrilous attacks on Jewish Americans.

I would argue that the historic canard of Jews being immutably "clannish" and disloyal has filtered into the respectable realms of public discourse....allowing even those not generally predisposed towards anti-Semitism to buy into the trope - an intellectual tick triggered by the sight of Jews expressing pride, and showing concern, towards the state of Israel.

My American passport is no different today than it was the day before I made Aliyah. There's no asterisk on my passport number and my status...my rights and obligations as an American, in the eyes of the State Department and the other branches of government, hasn't at all changed - just as it hasn't changed for the millions of Americans who possess dual citizenship with other nations.

Just as important, in my heart nothing has changed. Though I sit here absolutely amazed by the fact that I'm now a citizen of the first sovereign Jewish state in 2000 years, I also never cease to be amazed by how, in the most visceral and immutable way, I am, at the core, an unabashedly patriotic American.

Happy Independence Day!


Sarah said...

At any rate, I liked some of the NIH cartoons on VADLO search engine!

Adam Levick said...

Great cartoon! I'm assuming that "Sarah" is Zohara?