Ilhan Omar's dual loyalty charge was about more than anti-Semitism

Ilhan Omar's dual loyalty charge was about more than anti-Semitism
© Stefani Reynolds

At a recent event, Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down MORE (D-Minn.) said, in a reference to American Jewish supporters of Israel, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says that it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." When criticized by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish, Omar wrote on Twitter, “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress.” 

But controversy has engulfed a resolution drafted by top Democrats in Congress that, without naming Omar, a Muslim, condemned her remarks as based on the “myth of dual loyalty, including allegations that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens.” Younger Democrats think the resolution is unfair to Omar, despite the addition of language condemning anti-Muslim bias. 

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The fundamental fallacy of Omar’s comment is that national loyalty is a zero-sum game. The more loyal you are to Israel, in her view, the less loyal you must be to the United States. In fact, in my experience, American Jews are both loyal American citizens and strongly supportive of and emotionally loyal to Israel (even when criticizing it). There is no contradiction.

The dual loyalty canard, however, has been used against Jews in the Roman Empire, during the notorious Dreyfus Affair in France, and at its extreme, by the Nazis. Hitler built his satanic political career on the lie that Germany lost World War I because it had been “stabbed in the back” by, among others, the Jews — even though more than 100,000 Jews served in the Germany army.

Omar needs a crash course, not just in anti-Semitism, but in how the accusation of dual loyalties has been leveled throughout history, sometimes with catastrophic consequences, against minorities of all kinds, including Christians, Buddhists — and Muslims.

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Alleged dual loyalty was the justification used by the Ottoman Empire to launch a genocide against its Christian Armenian population during World War I, which killed a million men, women and children.  

One of the most morally shameful episodes in American history was the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The majority of those interned were Buddhists, whom the FBI and the War Relocation Authority claimed were likely to be more loyal to Japan than their own country because of their religion. 

After 9/11, Muslim communities in the United States became the object of suspicion and harassment. One of the best examples of the dual loyalty charge against Muslims in connection with 9/11 was provided by none other than President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE, when he made a monstrously false claim in 2015, “It was on television. I saw it. There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey where there are large Arab populations.They were cheering when the World Trade Center came down.”

Recently, a deplorable poster appeared at a Republican-sponsored public gathering at the West Virginia statehouse. The poster was a montage of a picture of Omar against a photograph of the World Trade Center attack. It’s unclear whether Omar grasped the irony that she had become the victim of a dual loyalty charge, which shows how hard it is to contain such allegations.

It comes down to this.  A Muslim congresswoman who is openly hostile to Israel uses a charge of dual loyalty against Jewish Americans, evidently not realizing that she is following in the footsteps of Trump, who did the same thing to people of her own faith, and then she falls victim to the same vile charge. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author of “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.