Loyalty questions

Loyalty questions

See if this sounds familiar:

You’re having a conversation with co-workers or classmates, and the conversation turns to politics — Israel in particular.

Someone who knows you’re Jewish suddenly blurts out this inane hypothetical question: “If Israel and the United States went to war, which side would you be on?”

This question, or something similar, has been put to many of us, including members of our own news staff, and it’s rank anti-Semitism.

This country did, in fact, go to war with Germany and Italy, yet Italian-Americans and German-Americans  — many of whom were just a generation removed from Ellis Island, if they didn’t come over themselves — enlisted and fought against their ancestral homes, though unnaturalized Italian-American immigrants were classified as enemy aliens and struggled with suspicion and prejudice.

(We would be grossly remiss though, if we didn’t recall how Japanese-Americans weren’t lucky enough to have a question put to them. Following Pearl Harbor, they were simply rounded up and sent to detention camps in what remains one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history.)

Nevertheless, citizens in good standing of this country, or any country, shouldn’t be ordered or asked to take a loyalty litmus test.

And that’s why the news broke this past week by the Israeli daily Haaretz is so disturbing. Apparently, the Israeli government, through its immigrant absorption and foreign ministries, has been distributing questionnaires to  “tens of thousands” of Israelis living in the United States as well as Jewish Americans, asking them where their loyalty would be in the event of some crisis between the two countries — a so-called “loyalty” poll.

One question specifically asks which side the respondents would support if there were a “crisis” between the United States and Israel. Others are only slightly less odious, asking about the respondents’ voting habits and the impact American Jews and Jewish organizations have on U.S. policy and, together with Israelis living in the States, on Israeli strength.

Haaretz reports that the Israeli American Council, a private nonprofit group based in Los Angeles whose stated mission is “to build an active and giving Israeli American community in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to the Jewish-American community,” commissioned the poll. But the questionnaires went out bearing the State of Israel seal and from Foreign Ministry email addresses.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a halt to the distribution, but the horse has bolted from the barn.

What now? Should we just write this off as a stupid bureaucratic glitch and move on?

The prime minister acted correctly. Still, there should still be an inquiry to learn who ordered the distribution of the questionnaires, and why.

Then maybe we should look in the mirror; is dual loyalty an issue?

We don’t happen to think so; at least, not as it pertains to Israel and the United States, nor should it be. We’re talking about two of the most stable democratic systems in the world, countries that have traded their intellectual, cultural and economic wealth for years to the benefit of both lands. It’s not like the Taliban controls one country and threatens the other.

But if some Israeli officials believe otherwise, then perhaps they should visit the issue in the Knesset. They shouldn’t insult good Israelis and American Jews by posing schoolyard questions. That’s just plain wrong.