Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jews, Israel and Dual Loyalty

It has been suggested by some that American Jews harbor competing loyalties to Israel and the United States. Jewish spokespeople have consistently, and possibly correctly, denied this concept. In doing so they always ask the question as to why other groups such as Italians or Irish, for example, are not similarly singled-out as having potential conflicting loyalties to their ethnic homelands.

To me the answer is rather clear. Whereas Italians and Irish have a longing for a homeland where their language is spoken, their foods are eaten, where they have memories of their ancestors, this does not apply to the American Jew and Israel.

The Jewish relationship to Israel is not one of an emigrant to his homeland. We American Jews are not emigrants from the Middle East with an immediate ancestral tie to Israel. Our forbears are from Europe, not Israel. Our foods are those of Europe, not Israel, our language is that of Europe, not Israel. Our customs are those of Europe, not Israel.

The relationship of American Jews to Israel is something very different and far deeper. It is not related to culture, to cuisine or language or homeland. Israel is a part of Judaism. Judaism and Israel are not easily separated. The land of Israel is central to Jewish festivals. Biblically Israel is synonymous with the Jews. Jerusalem and Israel are a constant presence in Jewish daily prayers; are in effect, an integral part of the Judaism. Judaism without Israel or Jerusalem is inconceivable. Whether Jews are in Israel or not in Israel, whether they are for Israel or against Israel politically, they can never deny the central position of Israel and Jerusalem in Jewish tradition, and even more importantly in Judaism. Italy or Ireland is not central to Catholicism.

The Jewish-Israel relationship, then, is unique. The question of dual loyalties is therefore not so easily answered.

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