Jews and the Charge of ‘Dual Loyalty’: Rachel Shabi Defends Classic Antisemitic Canard
by Adam Levick
Shabi has blamed Zionism for the ethnic cleansing of 900,000 Jews from Arab lands; characterizing their plight as being caused “either by agitating Zionist emissaries, or by the shockwaves that Zionism sent through the Middle East.” [emphasis added]
She has accused those who raise the issue of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands of engaging in cynical “political point-scoring”, and has even mocked the notion of historic Arab antisemitism.
Shabi also dismissed Israeli concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) – writing that the MB was merely “perceived as…anti-Semitic” – characterizing the Jewish state’s fear of the Islamist group’s rise (a movement whose spiritual leader literally called for Allah to murder every last Jew on earth) as evidence of Israeli racism!
In addition, while Shabi has carved out a successful journalistic niche as a Jewish critic of Israel I have found nothing Shabi has written on the subject of antisemitism, and absolutely no indication that she is at all burdened by the malign Jewish obsession which is normative in the Arab world – all of which provides relevant context to her latest essay at ‘Comment is Free’, “False accusations of antisemitism desensitize us to the real thing“, Feb. 17.
Shabi, in arguing that “rightwing pro-Israelis [have] sucked the oxygen out of any conversation about the country”, argues:
a broader rash of pouncing-upon from rightwing pro-Israelis that has sucked the oxygen out of any conversation about the country – especially in the US. Witness the recent storm over the phrase “Israel firsters”: used to accuse people of putting policy on Israel above US interests, it sparked a row among liberal commentators on whether it carries connotations of dual loyalty that feed into antisemitic tropes. This was just another attempt to smear liberal American critics of Israel, Yet the real danger in all this is that the rush to throw charges of antisemitism…and silence…people who criticise Israel will desensitise vigilance over the real thing. Such tactics are meant to intimidate and paralyse, choke and divert the discussion over Israel’s occupation and policies in the Middle East.
Briefly, the controversy Shabi is referring to arose when it was discovered that Zaid Jilani, who blogged for a Center for American Progress (CAP) website, ThinkProgress, used Twitter to call US supporters of the Jewish state “Israel Firsters” – evoking the antisemitic narrative that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country.
As several progressive commentators observed following the row, “liberal” voices who defend this dual loyalty canard are evidently unaware of or unburdened by the fact that the idea that diaspora Jews are insufficiently loyal to the country where they reside has a decidedly reactionary pedigree.
The charge of dual loyalty was central in the Dreyfus Affair through the Nazi’s rise to power – and, indeed, this notion in large measure underlay the failure of European emancipation. In the 1920s American industrialist Henry Ford published The International Jew: The World’s Problem where it was asserted that disloyal American Jews were pushing the U.S. into WWII, though the war was not in the national interest.
While after WWII manifestations of this charge often remained on the fringes of American society, Paul Findley, a former Republican U.S. Congressman, wrote a book in 1985, They Dare to Speak Out, which became a best-seller. In it, Findley maintained that American Jews utilized “tactics which stifle dissent in their own communities and throughout America” to benefit not their own country but, rather, Israel.
Paleoconservative commentators, not surprisingly, have similarly championed this narrative. Pat Buchanan wrote in 2008 that “Israel and its Fifth Column in [Washington , DC] seek to stampede us into war with Iran”, and has previously written that Jews “harbor a ‘passionate attachment’ to a nation not our own that causes them to subordinate the interests of their own country and to act on an assumption that, somehow, what’s good for Israel is good for America.”
As liberal columnist Spencer Ackerman noted on the term “Israel-firster”:
It turns out white supremacist Willis Carto was reportedly the first to use it, and (former KKK Grand Wizard) David Duke popularized it through his propaganda network…It is a term that Charles Lindbergh would [have been] comfortable using.
As David Bernstein observed upon researching the term:
The “Israel-firster” slur was not used in “mainstream” discourse until the last few years. Before that, you can find it occasionally in the early 1980s and 1990s in sources such as Wilmot Robertson’s anti-Semitic Instauration journal, a 1988 anti-Semitic book called “The F.O.J. [Fear of Jews] Syndrome, and a 1998 anti-Semitic book “Rise of AntiChrist.”
I also found a couple of references to “Israel-firsters” in the extremist anti-Israel publication, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs… By the early 2000s, one can find “Israel-firster” being used by a variety of anti-Semitic “right-wing” sources like DavidDuke.com and the Vanguard News Network. As the decade wore on, the phrase occasionally pops up in far left anti-Israel sites that have ties to the anti-Semitic far-right or are known for playing footsie with anti-Semitism.
Finally, over the last few years the term has become increasingly used on the anti-Israel far left So the question is, does your average Progressive recoil at the use of terminology that migrated recent from the far-right racist kook fringe to refer to members of minority groups? They sure do. Should they recoil less if the terminology is aimed at Jews, as opposed to other minority groups? They sure shouldn’t-unless they are themselves prejudiced against Jews.
Rachel Shabi, a “progressive” commentator writing for a publication which fancies itself the “worlds leading liberal voice”, not only doesn’t recoil from such a malign narrative, questioning the loyalty of Jews but, rather, is outraged that those who engage in such Judeophobic tropes (popularized on the far-right) are being “smeared” as antisemites.
As A. Jay Adler concluded in a recent CiF Watch cross post about those, like Shabi, who would defend or excuse such a slur on Jewish Americans”.
They defend their use of the term because they believe that this time it is true. They believe that this time there really are divided loyalties, there really is a cadre of Jews exercising excessive, secretive power while aggressively attempting to suppress any exposure of it. And like all their reactionary forebears…they forget that the belief they cling to is the belief to which purveyors of anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power always hold fast – it’s the essential marker of the tradition – that what they believe is true.
To this I’d add one more caveat. Activists like Shabi, like so many others at ‘Comments is Free’, seem to believe that self-proclaimed “progressives” are ipso facto free of prejudice, and so should be granted a kind of impunity from accusations of racism even when trading in the most classic Judeophobic stereotypes.
Such supreme moral hubris continues to inform so much of the the commentary about Israel and Jews by Guardian reporters, contributors and their “progressive” fellow travelers.