Antisemitism defined: Allegations of Dual loyalty - World Jewish Congress

Antisemitism defined: Allegations of Dual loyalty

Antisemitism defined: Allegations of Dual loyalty

An Austrian postcard from 1919 showing a caricatured Jew backstabbing a German soldier.

The sixth example in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism addresses one of the oldest antisemitic canards, whereby Jewish citizens are accused “of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” 

Simply referred to as the “dual loyalty” charge, antisemites alleges that the true allegiance of Jews is to their fellow Jews and that therefore they are inherently disloyal citizens and cannot be trusted. In casting the Jew as the other, this antisemitic trope, which has existed for thousands of years, has been used to scapegoat, harass, and vilify Jews, and at times has even led to murder.  

This canard is different from the concern over a conflict of interest, which occurs when individual relationships or interests may influence decisions or actions, but is not dependent on an individual’s identity. Rather, the dual loyalty charge levied against Jews is inherently designed to target and discredit them and to call into question their loyalty to their country of residence simply because they are Jewish— to portray them as a dangerous fifth column. 

According to Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Biden administration’s nominee to serve as antisemitism envoy, “The dual loyalty canard that has plagued Jews is the fertile soil in which centuries of these stereotypes have taken root and grown.” 

“People were willing to believe it, even though the evidence from the very outset was shaky, because it made sense to them. They had been so exposed to this stereotype, it had become so much the pivot point and the central element of antisemitism that Jews have other loyalties, that it seemed like it must be true, and they were ready to believe the worst,” Lipstadt said.  

“In its most extreme form, the charge of dual loyalty amounts to an accusation of treason," said Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld.  

What the allegation doesn’t mean 

While denouncing the antisemitic canard of dual loyalty is essential, it does not mean that the emotional connections of Diaspora Jews to Israel or their fellow Jews must be denied. Indeed, polls consistently demonstrate a strong appreciation for Israel among Diaspora Jews, whether in America or elsewhere. 

There are many wide-ranging reasons for the strong connection felt by Diaspora Jews to Israel, including, but not limited to: ideology, religion, family ties, an appreciation for Jewish history, and an appreciation for Israeli culture. This is no different than the affinity Korean Americans may feel to Korea or the connection that members of other ethnicities may feel to their respective places of origin and cultures.  

Loyalty to a home country may be based on its core values and principles, such as liberty and freedom. Maintaining multiple loyalties is only objectionable if doing so is antithetical to those essential values or if one is loyal to a country at war with their home country. 

Furthermore, these values of love and appreciation for another country may even be in the interest of the home country. As Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once said, “My approach to Zionism was through Americanism. In time, practical experience and observation convinced me that Jews were by reason of their traditions and their character peculiarly fitted for the attainment of American ideals. Gradually, it became clear to me that to be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists.” 

However, to single out Diaspora Jews and argue that they cannot be trusted citizens because of this relationship is antisemitic and a perpetuation of the antisemitic canard that has led to much Jewish suffering. 

Historic examples:  

  • Promoting the idea that Jews crucified Jesus  
  • The conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for espionage in France 
  • Allegations that Jews conspired to involve their home countries in foreign wars at the expense of their home country. An example includes World War II, about which many antisemites claim that the struggle in Europe was a “Jewish cause” and that Jewish groups outside of Europe were “agitating for war” on behalf of a foreign people. 
  • The “Doctors’ Plot” concocted by Joseph Stalin, which cast a group of Soviet Jewish doctors as disloyal citizens. 
  • Allegations that Jews’ true loyalty was to Marxism, Communism, or other revolutionary ideologies.  

The trope with Israel  

Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the use of this trope has become increasingly more apparent. Arab governments drove out Jews who had been law-abiding citizens for generations, claiming they were Zionist or Israeli spies.  

For example, thousands of Egyptian Jews were arrested, synagogues were burned, and property was seized following the creation of the State of Israel. This was exacerbated after Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, when Egypt proceeded to round upJewish men and arrested them as “Israeli” prisoners of war. Similar actions were undertaken in Iraq, where Jews were barred from higher education and their bank accounts were frozen. When one extreme party took control in Iraq in 1963, Jews were forced to carry yellow identification cards. In 1969, 12 Jews were accused of spying for Israel, nine of whom were hanged publicly before a celebrating crowd of 500,000 citizens.  

Contemporary examples of the dual loyalty trope  

  • Accusing Jews of other individuals putting the interests of Israel ahead of the good of their citizens
  • Accusing Jews of putting the interests of Israel ahead of the good of their fellow citizens. 
  • Questioning if a Jewish ambassador to Israel can be objective when advising his home government on relations with the Jewish State.  
  • Asking a Jewish student being considered for a campus governance position whether he or she can be “impartial” on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict because of his or her Jewish heritage.  
  • Questioning the loyalty of those backing legislation supporting the State of Israel. 
  • Suggesting that Jews’ loyalty to Israel should disqualify them from being seen as American patriots or serving in political office. 

Understanding Antisemitism:  

Antisemitism is a complex, multifaceted hatred. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism is considered the gold standard in understanding antisemitism and has been used by governments and institutions to identify and monitor the phenomenon.   

An internationally accepted definition is also useful in assisting authorities to determine whether an incident is antisemitic or not.  

The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism states:  

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”  

The definition includes a list of eleven reference examples, including, most relevantly:   

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.  

What the WJC is doing about it: 

In addition to raising awareness of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and condemning antisemitic incidents across the globe, WJC publishes reports bringing attention to antisemitic trends. For instance, in 2021, WJC published a report providing an overview of some of the most blatant antisemitic social media posts during the Hamas-Israel conflict. Many of those featured Holocaust imagery, conspiracy myths, and Nazi glorification, in particular evocations such as “Hitler was right.”     

The report also indicated that there was a surge of antisemitic attacks on Diaspora Jews during the conflict between Hamas and Israel over the summer.  

Two reports released by the WJC in November 2020 found that content featuring harmful conspiracy myths targeting Jews has been increasing online and that the once United States-centric movement QAnon has spread to Europe as well. Across social media platforms, the use of phrases such as “Jewish virus” and epithets such as “kike” and “dirty Jew” have increased.  

Since the initial spread of the coronavirus in March 2020, the reports demonstrate that there has been an acute rise in online antisemitism, often–but not exclusively–linked to the pandemic, as many more activities moved into the digital sphere.