Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Accusations of "dual loyalty" against Jews: Bernie Sanders on the Diane Rehm show (with update)

According to surveys by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), about 30% of the American public believes that Jews are more loyal to Israel than they are to the United State. This is a figure that has not budged in several decades of polling. The ADL have done surveys of  "Anti-Semitic Propensities" since 1964, and in surveys from 1964, 1992, 1998, 2002, and 2005, 2009, 2011, between 30-35% of the respondents agreed with the statement that Jews are "More loyal to Israel than America." A report from 2011 (pdf) shows that "Since 1964, 30 percent of Americans have consistently believed that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America, despite the changing makeup of the US population."  When the ADL did a world survey, using the same questions, in 2014, they found that "The most widely accepted anti-Semitic stereotype worldwide is: 'Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country/the countries they live in.'" Of those surveyed around the world, 41% believed this statement to be "probably true." This was the most widely accepted stereotype in Western Europe (45%) and the Americas (38%).

I think this is the appropriate framework within which to understand the question that Diane Rehm asked Senator Bernie Sanders this morning on her radio show. In the middle of the interview ((Diane Rehm interviews Bernie Sanders), she asked about the statement that he had dual Israeli-American citizenship.

The report is from the Jewish Journal:
On a Wednesday morning broadcast, longtime NPR host Diane Rehm interviewed presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and asked the Jewish self-described socialist some strange questions when it came to his connection with Israel.
Here’s the relevant exchange, which begins at about the 24-minute mark if you want to listen for yourself:

Diane Rehm: Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel. 
Bernie Sanders: Well, no I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I'm an American. I don't know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I'm an American citizen, period. 
Rehm: I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list. 
Sanders: No. 
Rehm: Forgive me if that is— 
Sanders: That's some of the nonsense that goes on in the internet. But that is absolutely not true. 
Rehm: Interesting. Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship or is that part of the fable? 
Sanders: I honestly don't know but I have read that on the internet. You know, my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket. He loved this country. I am, you know, I got offended a little bit by that comment, and I know it's been on the internet. I am obviously an American citizen and I do not have any dual citizenship.
Right after this, the interview returns to Planet Earth. Rehm asks him about whether he supports a two-state solution. He answers by saying that the Palestinian people "deserve a state of their own" and that "Israel needs to live in security without terrorist attacks." He also reveals (no surprise) that he's not a fan of Netanyahu, and that he thinks that President Obama is doing the best he can in a difficult situation.

I'm trying to remember if anyone in the news media ever interviewed Joe Lieberman, either when he was running for vice president on the ticket with Al Gore, or when he was running for the Democratic nomination for president, and either assumed or asked him if he had Israeli citizenship. I don't remember this happening, and I'm sure that I would have noticed. The assumption that Bernie Sanders had dual citizenship is an example of the suspicion that Jews are not really full American citizens, that we have dual loyalty to the US and to our Jewish identity or the state of Israel.

It is a canard that goes back to the earliest years of Enlightenment and Emancipation, when the demand was made that for Jews to become equal citizens of European states, they had to lose entirely their Jewish distinctiveness and assimilate into European culture and society. When most Jews refused to do this, arguing that it was possible to be a loyal citizen of a state without ceasing to be a Jew, many people did not accept this. Jews were accused of forming a "state within a state" by the German philosopher J. G. Fichte. He feared that they could "undermine" the German nation. He wrote that Jews could only be granted civil rights, if it was possible "to cut off all their heads in one night, and to set new ones on their shoulders, which should contain not a single Jewish idea." (Quotations from the Wikipedia article on Fichte -

So where did Diane get this weird idea? What "list" does she have? Is it as mythical as the "list" of American communists that Joe McCarthy waved around and claimed that they worked for the US government?

Jared Sichel, the author of the Jewish Journal article, writes further:
A cursory search on Google of “Bernie Sanders Israeli citizenship” shows that his name comes up in the comments section of the “We are all Vittorio Arrigoni” Facebook page. Arrigoni was an Italian pro-Palestinian activist who was kidnapped and murdered by non-Hamas Islamists in Gaza in April 2011. In the comments section of the Facebook page, on May 2 a user posted a list of senators and representatives who “have both Israel and U.S. citizenships.” Sanders is on the list. No source is given because the list is a total fabrication, not to mention created by an anti-Semite and anti-Zionist, which is given away by the fact that it says “Jewish Lobby”, “#israelwarcrime”, “AIPAC: Buying Congress one seat at a time”, “Rothschild”, and features an American flag with a Star of David replacing the 50 stars. 
If this is in fact the “list” that Rehm was referring to, it’s a remarkable feat of shoddy and lazy journalism.
TPM also has a short article on the interview: Diane Rehm Presses Sanders on Whether He's US-Israel Dual Citizen, and Josh Marshall has a good take on it:
Where did this come from? Today on the Diane Rehm Show, Rehm pressed Sen. Bernie Sanders on whether or not he is a US-Israeli dual citizen. He's not. After pressing the point and having him deny it, she shifted gears to "Are there members of Congress who do have dual citizenship or is that part of the fable?"

A lot of things that are offensive or maybe shocking are ... well, not really that shocking because look who the person is. Think of this as the Gohmert Principle. But this ... yes, I'm genuinely shocked. What was Rehm thinking? Saying she found it on "a list we have gotten" hardly inspires a lot of confidence. 
What particularly struck me about the back and forth is this: Rehm asks her question. Sanders denies it. She presses again. He denies it. At this point, maybe you figure she just got put in a really awkward position by an idiot researcher (though that's dubious because even a half-educated person would recognize the incendiary nature of the question), so she might say, well, I'm sorry we oblivious had some bad information there. But she doesn't. She asks about whether there are other members of Congress with dual citizenship. 
The idea that Bernie Sanders has dual citizenship definitely comes from the world of antisemitic conspiracy theories. I just Googled his name and "dual citizenship" and came up with several websites. This one, from a website named "Co-Creating our Future on Planet Earth" posted several links to someone named Michael Ruark, who has lots of lists of supposed "dual citizens." He claims to have done his own "research," His criterion for someone being a dual citizen of Israel appears to be that that person is Jewish. His list includes all the Jewish members of the Obama administration, past and present and all the Jewish members of the House and Senate (that is, if they are all Jewish - I wouldn't depend on him for accuracy there either),

My guess is that a staffer for the Diane Rehm show came upon this list on an antisemitic site on the internet, did not recognize that it was an antisemitic site, printed it off, and handed it to her as part of the background information for her interview with Sanders. See below for update.

An article (entitled "Why It's Important for Us to Know: Dual Citizens in Congress) from that highly dubious website, Counterpunch, claims that when Jews visit Israel, they can automatically be granted Israeli citizenship and receive an Israeli identification number. The author, L. Michael Hager, writes:
The recent experience of Lenny Lapon, a Jewish American citizen from Massachusetts, shows how automatic the conferral of Israeli citizenship can be. As Lapon described it when he publically renounced that citizenship last July, his flight to Israel in October 2010 resulted in the award of Israeli citizenship and an Israeli identification number. Thus it is likely that Jewish members of Congress became Israeli citizens if and when they visited Israel. We don’t yet know if this was the case for any or all of the visiting Jewish Members. Nor do we know if any such member has renounced Israeli citizenship.
I can say from personal experience that merely being a Jew who flies to Israel will not get you Israeli citizenship. It's necessary to apply for Israeli citizenship, and part of the process is proving that one is Jewish.

The source of Hager's claim that Lenny Lapon spontaneously received Israeli citizenship when he flew to Israel comes from an article that Lapon published in Mondoweiss, about renouncing his Israeli citizenship. He writes: "On October 19, 2010 my plane landed in Israel and instantaneously I was awarded Israeli citizenship with identification card # 012706735, solely because I am Jewish." My guess is that Lapon went to Israel with the intention to make aliyah, that he had filled out the requisite paperwork and had been accepted to gain citizenship beforehand, and that he received his ID number and citizenship once he arrived at Ben Gurion airport. Hager read Lapon's article without knowing that he must have been approved for Israeli citizenship before he arrived, after having applied for it, probably with the mental assumption that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the US.

The questions I'm left with are- why did Diane Rehm think this was an appropriate or relevant question to ask? What would she have asked Sanders if he had said that he also had Israeli citizenship? Where was her question leading?

Update: Diane Rehm has now apologized, and said that "she had read that Sanders was a dual citizen in a Facebook comment but that she's happy to help put 'this rumor to rest.'"
"On today's show I made a mistake. Rather than asking Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders whether he had dual U.S./Israeli citizenship, as I had read in a comment on Facebook, I stated it as fact. He corrected me, saying he did not know where the question came from. I apologized immediately," Rehm said. "I want to apologize as well to all our listeners for having made an erroneous statement. I am sorry for the mistake. However, I am glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest."
I was too eager to blame the clueless staffer - it turns out that Rehm herself was the one who didn't know what antisemitism was when it was staring her in the face.

1 comment:

  1. This same ugliness was around when Al Smith ran for President and later in 1960 when JFK ran because both of them were Roman Catholics. People claimed that they held more allegiance to Rome than they did to the United States. I was 10 years old when JFK was elected and I remember that he pledged that he would place no church ahead of the USA if he were to be elected. I mourn for American intelligence.