U.S. Jews who put Israel first are merely exercising their democratic rights

Ha’aretz 6/2/12

With the loathsome term ‘Israel-Firster’ coming back into the journalistic vernacular in some parts of the U.S. press, an opinion is forming that elections bring the worst out of Jews. Whether through the Republican candidates’ fixation on Israel, or vocal elements of the communities myopic focus, some are questioning whether it is right to be such a single issue voter at a time when there are so many problems plaguing the United States. By voting on the basis of how a candidate for office views Israel, are you somehow showing you have dual loyalties?

First and foremost it is vital to make clear that there is nothing neither wrong nor un-American in being a single issue voter. Many in the environmental lobby made clear to the president that if he had green-lighted the Keystone Pipeline then they would not have voted for him. They boiled their selection down to a single issue. Whether on a woman’s right to choose, the second amendment or nuclear disarmament, being intensely motivated by a single issue is normal in many settings. Why cannot those whose issue is Israel be considered in the same way?

Some may retort that Israel is a foreign country, not a domestic policy choice; a vote based on a foreign countries interest is clearly not something that a loyal citizen would do. There are many responses to this accusation, I will lay out two.

The first is to say that how the U.S. treats Israel directly affects the United States values and ethics. Israel is the test case for Western values and its abandonment will ultimately lead to America’s downfall. Judging candidates’ worth based on their views on Israel therefore would be upholding American values. I personally do not subscribe to this view, but there are many on the political right who do.

Alternatively, one could truly believe that Israel is in mortal danger and, as a person who feels a deep affinity with the people there coupled with your concerns about their welfare, you choose to prioritize their physical safety over your domestic problems. Again, this is not a position to which I ascribe but there are plenty of American Jews, often older segments, who do believe that Israel’s very survival is dependent on a strongly pro-Israel U.S. government. This elder generation lives with the belief that just as in the 1930’s the Jewish community risked much to prioritize Jewish welfare over other concerns, so does the duty fall on their heads. Does this act of compassion, as they see it, make them any less loyal to America?

These dual-loyalty claims are as bizarre as they are offensive. What could be more American then organizing and making your views heard at the ballot box? There are plenty of Diaspora communities, who care about their national homeland. Should the Norman Tebit cricket test be applied to all before we accept their pledges of allegiance?

As a newcomer to America I do not have the ability to cast a ballot in the forthcoming elections. Yet, back in my native city of London I too am faced with an electoral problem. As a Labour Party member, the candidate standing, Ken Livingston, is a marvelous technocrat. I greatly admire his handling of London’s many services. Yet his unhealthy obsession with Israel and all things anti-Zionist make it impossible for me to vote for him with a clean conscience.

Does this imply my loyalty to the U.K. is in question, or that someone who I believe hates a country to which I feel a deep emotional connection is not deserving of my vote? Israel, in my case, is the determining factor in my decision at the ballot box, yet my loyalty to London, the U.K. and to the Queen is never in question. My problems as a Jewish Londoner are similar in type if not scope to those of the Jewish Swede in Malmo.

However one decides to judge the merits of a candidate for public office, their expression of their preferences through the ballot is both a function of good citizenship and loyalty to the institutions of state. Voting – whether based on a single issue or a multitude of issues – are both the expressions of a free citizen exercising their rights in the democratic process.

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