There is nothing wrong with dual loyalty, according to Israeli writer Amos Elon. Fear of expressing this is a cultural vestige, he said, and leads to the kind of queasiness that surrounds the Jonathan Pollard spy case.
Elon spoke, with Rabbi Marshall Meyer of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun here, at the synagogue at a recent conclave of the New Israel Fund, each addressing himself to the issue “Does Israel represent us all?” The meeting was sponsored by the New Israel Fund and the Metropolitan Division of the American Jewish Congress in cooperation with Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.
The matter of the Pollard affair arose as a response to Elon’s request that American Jews “meddle even more” than usual in Israeli affairs, with neither fear nor apology, affirming that both Israelis and American Jews share a “common agenda.”
“What is meddling in Israeli affairs?” Elon asked. “For example, I wish the New Israel Fund would meddle even more.” The New Israel Fund is a grant-making foundation dedicated to strengthening democracy in Israel.
ISSUE OF DUAL LOYALTY
The issue of dual loyalty was brought up as a question following upon Elon’s strong suggestion that American Jews raise their voices in criticism of Israeli policies, and followed up a controversy begun last month when Israeli political theorist Shlomo Avineri wrote an “open letter to an American friend” in which he charged that American Jewish leaders exhibited a “galut” mentality in reaction to the Pollard case.
In his letter, published in The Jerusalem Post, Avineri accused prominent American Jewish leaders of “cringing” in fear of charges of dual loyalty.
“I would say that I for one am not so much scared of it. Why not have dual loyalty, or even tropic loyalty?” Elon asked. “Of course,” he answered himself, “fright of dual loyalty is based on fragile understanding, and that’s why I’m so angry at the Israeli government’s precarious balance in hiring the ‘poor schnook, Pollard.'”
NEED FOR ONGOING CRITICISM
Elon emphasized the ongoing need for criticism of the Israeli government and its policies.
“It would help if American Jews would not be as consistent as they have been in the past” in supporting Israel without differentiating between what they really believe and what they think they should believe. “I wish you would meddle more,” Elon told the audience.
“The true miracle of Israeli life is that after 40 years of warfare, Israel has remained a fairly decent society without being afraid of airing its problems,” Elon said. American Jews have usually felt they should refrain from criticizing Israel, he said, in contradistinction to Israelis’ own compulsion to criticize themselves and their government. “How can American Jews’ interference affect Israel if Israelis can’t?” Elon asked.
“The man on the street would have handled the Pollard affair better than (Israeli Premier Yitzhak) Shamir,” Elon offered. “What we have seen this past few weeks is a difference between respectability and authority — a totally irresponsible authority.” Hiring an American Jew as a spy was “an insane idea,” Elon said.
If the Pollard affair was a rogue operation, “how do you get out of it once it’s done?” he asked. “You either deny everything — and you sacrifice. Or else you admit everything. But the Israeli government neither apologized nor helped. Instead, they disclosed a little and they denied a little. And caused the tragedy. From a patriotic point of view,” said Elon, “it’s ridiculous.”
‘WE ENDED CAUGHT IN A VISE’
Meyer suggested that “We Jews are not secure enough to say of Pollard, ‘What’s the difference?’ If he were a Christian, it would not have bothered us. But to take a Jew,” and make him a spy, said Meyer, “we ended caught in a vise.”
Both Elon and Meyer took the Holocaust as a point of reference for American Jews suffering from guilt feelings. “We feel guilty that we didn’t do enough then, and we haven’t done enough for Israel since then,” Meyer said.
Elon suggested that “The Holocaust impressed this kind of mentality” on Jews, causing them to refrain from criticizing Israel. “But supporting blindly every Israeli policy is not conducive to the health of Israel,” he said.
“I think it comes down to we really don’t know who we are,” Meyer said. “We must address ourselves to it. With more internal strength, we could say of the Pollard affair, ‘No, that’s immoral.'”
Meyer said that “I don’t think we are united today. I think we are fractured and atomized, because of our sense of guilt. But we can certainly get closer to each other.”
Meyer, an America-born human rights activist, reflected on his many years in Argentina, where he established a Conservative Jewish seminary in 1962, saying, “I wish that I had tried to build that seminary in Israel.”
Remarking that very few actively observant, participant Conservative Jews had settled in Israel, he cautioned, “We must once and for all understand that unless there will be religious pluralism, there is a danger and the possibility of Israel becoming a theocracy, with the Orthodox’s complicity, and the silence of the non-religious.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.