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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Divided Loyalties

Americans have a long tradition of divided loyalties going all the way back to the Colonial period, when many Colonists retained their loyalty to the Crown. In my grandfather's day many socialists who had come to America from Germany or Russia were deeply ambivalent about America's entry into the war. In the mid-twentieth century the most well known and widely discussed divided loyalty was of course the emotional and financial support given by Irish-Americans to the IRA at a time when the US government was labelling them a terrorist organization. One tends to forget that Joe McCarthy got his start representing a heavily German-American Congressional district and defending Germany against the condemnation of its WW II atrocities.

So the divided loyalty of American Jews with regard to Israel is not surprising. What I find disturbing is the unwillingness of many left-wing Jewish intellectuals to speak openly and honestly about their divided loyalty and either to defend Israel's apartheid policies and bellicose foreign policy or openly acknowledge their rejection of those policies.   It is interesting that Israeli left intellectuals do not have that difficulty.

4 comments:

decessero said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
former Israeli said...

Dr. Wolff,

Regarding Jewish ambivalence: The nexus you make by analogy with loyalty to the crown or the IRA is interesting. There may be an additional force at play here.

True, even left-wing Jewish intellectuals seem reluctant about openly criticizing Israel’s bellicose foreign policy and its several other reprehensible policies. And you are right that the Israeli left “Intelligentsia” speaks its mind easily. Why is that? Certainly, the very concept of “loyalty” enters the discussion in no small part because its flip side is “disloyalty” - a concept fraught with negative connotation. Every Jewish kid is raised to be loyal to the Tribe and with the exhortation not to do anything to hurt this minority which has been wronged through the ages. So we must “stick together”… [so it is, for example, that there are organizations for “Jews with cancer” - they are more important to support than “people with cancer”].

There is an additional element to the “must not criticize” phenomenon, I think, and it is rooted in language - thus quite powerful and subliminal: Jews who emigrate TO Israel are called “Olim” - those who go up. Surely you have heard the world “Aliyah” - literally, it means “going up”, or “ascension” - it is the term used for individual or group emigration into Israel. Those who emigrate FROM Israel are called “Yordim”- those who go down - descend, decline. By unspoken extension, it behooves them to keep their own counsel. That, to my mind, explains the (dangerous) reticence you are noting.

GTChristie said...

Well, I'd like to ask what is the state of your loyalties, since you didn't actually say. Unless that's a bad thing to ask.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

GT that is a very good question. I would say that my loyalty is to progressive men and women everywhere, including Israel and the Occupied Territories, but especially to my comrades in America and South Africa, where my actions have been concentrated.