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Why it's not anti-Semitic for Ilhan Omar to raise the question of dual loyalty

Those who accuse Ilhan Omar of 'anti-Semitism' are guilty of dishonesty
Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been accused of anti-Semitism over recent statements, yet nowhere did Omar mention Jews. She talked only about Israel. (AFP)

I have always had a problem with the concept of dual loyalty. I agree with what Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto. The interests of the working class and the oppressed cross borders. Loyalty is not to the ruling classes of "their" own countries. 

Palestinians struggling against the occupation have more in common with Black Lives Matter than with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or his cronies. As Muhammad Ali once put it: "No Vietcong ever called me a nigger." 

In the words of Samuel Johnson, an English writer and critic of the 18th century, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Appeals to patriotism never apply to the rich and powerful. 

Cries of anti-Semitism

When Ilhan Omar, the new Congresswoman from Minnesota, responded to Glenn Greenwald’s comment that: "It's stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans," by tweeting: "It's all about the Benjamins baby,"  all hell broke loose. 

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Batya Ungar-Sargon of the Forward asked Omar who she thought was paying American politicians to support Israel. In response she got a brilliant one word answer: "AIPAC". The air was thick with cries of "anti-Semitism," AIPAC referring, of course, to the lobbying group The American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Even Donald Trump, who came to power nakedly using anti-Semitic theme tunes, condemned the Democrats as the 'anti-Jewish party' for not condemning Omar's  'terrible comments'

Even Donald Trump, who came to power nakedly using anti-Semitic theme tunes and for whom the neo-Nazis at Charlotteville were "fine people," condemned the Democrats as the "anti-Jewish party" for not condemning Omar's "terrible comments".

This is the man who lit the fire that resulted in the worst anti-Jewish massacre in American history at Pittsburgh. Trump does not do irony.

Omar then repeated much the same remarks at Washington DC's Busboys and Poets Cafe: "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."

According to Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine this statement was "much worse" than her previous statements, when she ascribed support for Israel to financial contributions from the lobby.

"Accusing Jews of 'allegiance to a foreign country' is a historically classic way of delegitimizing their participation in the political system." Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times accused her of waging a series of "microaggressions". 

Talk of dual loyalty

So is it true? Is Ilhan Omar anti-Semitic - and even more pertinently - is talk of "dual loyalty" in itself anti-Semitic?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, on 6 March 2018 (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, on 6 March 2018 (AFP)

Well the first problem is that nowhere did Omar mention Jews. She talked about a foreign country, Israel.

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which Zionist groups have lobbied for strongly in Britain, conflates anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. It states that: "Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel ... than to the interests of their own nations is an illustration of anti-Semitism."

If the concept of dual loyalty is anti-Semitic then that is because Zionism rests on the anti-Semitic canard that Jews, wherever they live, are aliens

Others such as Philip Weiss in Mondoweiss have argued that far from Omar being anti-Semitic, even many Jewish writers agree that the question of dual loyalty is no myth.

Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib made similar comments when she said in January that Senate supporters of anti-boycott legislation "forgot what country they represent". 

So are accusations of dual loyalty, with respect to Israel, anti-Semitic? The first and most obvious point to make is that it is fundamental to Zionism that Jews form a single nation. If the concept of dual loyalty is anti-Semitic then that is because Zionism rests on the anti-Semitic canard that Jews, wherever they live, are aliens.

In 2015, after the supermarket killings in France, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French Jews that their "real home" was in Israel, a call repeated by Israeli Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay after the Pittsburgh synagogue murders.

Jewish nationality

Israel is unique among states in not having its own nationality. It has hundreds of nationalities but only one, the Jewish nationality, is of any importance. That is why Israel is an apartheid state. This issue was settled in 1972 in the case of Tamarin v State of Israel.

Ilhan Omar's 'Benjamins' tweet storm: 'Criticising AIPAC is not anti-Semitic'
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George Tamarin wanted to change his nationality from "Jewish" to "Israeli" but the Court refused. Chief Justice Shimon Agranat ruled that: "The desire to create an Israeli nation separate from the Jewish nation is not a legitimate aspiration. A division of the population into Israeli and Jewish nations would ... negate the foundation on which the State of Israel was established."

The court went on to state: "There is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish People. The Jewish People is composed not only of those residing in Israel but also of Diaspora Jewry."

This decision was upheld in 2013 in Uzi Ornan against the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. The Jewish Nation State Law passed last summer makes it explicit that Israel is the nation state of the Jews, all Jews, wherever they live.

That is why Benjamin Netanyahu has described himself as the "prime minister of the Jewish people".

On Sunday popular Israeli actress Rotem Sala asserted that: "the Arabs are also human beings," in response to an accusation from Culture Minister Miri Regev that the opposition in the general election campaign wants to form a government with the support of the Arab parties.

Netanyahu immediately wrote in response that "Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish nation – and it alone."

Strategic interest

Half of the world's Jews live outside Israel and are nationals of the country they live in, yet Israel claims that they are part of the same nation as its own Jewish citizens. It is this claim, not what Omar said, which lies behind the belief that Jews have a dual loyalty to both Israel and the country they live in.

Clearly it is not possible to be a member of two nations simultaneously (although legally one can have dual nationality).

So when Omar accuses members of the Senate of spending time defending a foreign nation by attacking its own nationals' right to free speech, she is correct.

There is nothing whatsoever anti-Semitic in such an assertion. The reason isn't so much "the Benjamins," ie money, but because support for Israel is seen as in the United States' strategic interests.

Hence why some of the most vociferous supporters of Israel are not Jewish but fundamentalist Christians, and many, such as Trump, are known for their use of anti-Semitic tropes.

Guilty of dishonesty

Omar was attacking all those Senators, regardless of religion, who voted for a Bill that prioritised the defence of America's armed watchdog in the Middle East over the democratic rights of Americans.

Those who accuse Ilhan Omar of "anti-Semitism" are guilty of dishonesty. They are arguing in bad faith.

When you support AIPAC, you support the interests of a foreign state, Israel

It is inherent to Zionism that the first loyalty of any Jew is to Israel because their stay in the diaspora is temporary. "The negation of the diaspora" is fundamental to Zionist ideology. The accursed Galut (diaspora) needs to be wound up, although it is convenient having a large community in the United States that can lobby on its behalf.

The wrong sort of Jews

This is not an academic argument. Like most anti-Zionist Jews, I receive my full quota of abuse from Zionists. One of the most frequently used terms of abuse is to call us a "traitor" to which I respond by asking: who it is that I am disloyal to?

What lies behind this accusation is the belief that a Jew's first loyalty is to the State of Israel not the United Kingdom.

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That was why the Israeli ministries of Foreign Affairs and Absorption distributed in 2013 a survey asking American Jews "where their allegiance would lie in the case of a crisis between the two countries".

Netanyahu had the survey stopped in its tracks but it would have been interesting to see the results.

Phillip Weiss cites a number of Jewish writers such as Joe Klein who wrote about the push to go to war in Iraq by the neocons: "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 US military power, US lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel."

When you support AIPAC, you support the interests of a foreign state, Israel. As the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, tweeted: "AIPAC is Israel's national strategic asset."

If anyone is questioning American Jewish loyalty it isn't Ilhan Omar, it is people like Israeli government minister, Michael Oren.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Tony Greenstein is a Jewish anti-Zionist and a founding member of Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods. He is a long-standing anti-fascist activist and author of A History of Fighting Fascism in Brighton and the South Coast. He has written for many publications including the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Labour Briefing and Weekly Worker. He has recently contributed to the Anti-Semitism Wars (ed. Karl Sabbagh) and is currently working on a book Zionism During the Holocaust. Greenstein is an active trade unionist and a member of Brighton & Hove Trades Council and UNITE. He was also one of the first victims of the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt in the Labour Party and was expelled in February 2018.
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