I can’t possibly be the only person who heard Ilhan Omar’s charge of ‘dual loyalty’ and thought to myself ‘what the hell took you so long?’ This is the price we pay as Jews for being so impertinent as to keep living 2000 years after what should have been have been our natural death as a people at the hands of the Romans.
What is the secret to the seemingly eternal arc of Jewish history? How have we survived these charges of dual loyalty, again and again, for millennia? To my thinking, the answer is so absurdly simple, and can only be so simple because the practice of living this secret is so absurdly complex. No ‘goyisher‘ mind can possibly understand it. Sure, they can understand it intellectually, but living it? That is a secret only a Yiddisher kop can possess:
Comfort with ambiguity.
Sure, some Jews don’t have this Yiddisher kop gene, and some gentiles do. But the goyim who possess it possess it in spite of their intellectual inheritance, and the Jews who don’t, possess it in spite of ours.
The essence of the Jewish story and character is criticism, and criticism can come from any side at all. Talmudical Rabbis came up with the dialectic more than 1500 years before Hegel did, and there is (at very least) a Hillel and a Shammai in every argument. One critique will inevitably contradict another critique, and two diametrically opposed viewpoints can not only seem completely correct, but even be completely correct. Not many people in the world understand this, but then again, not many people understand the higher level mathematics which proves this thesis, and as every Jew of our time hears ad-nauseum, Jews are particularly good at math…
After two-thousand years of learning Rabbinical critiques in Yeshivas, a comfort with contradictions in our thinking exists in the Jewish character right down to our brains’ limbic systems (or,… alright… our kishkes). And therefore, because we understand these contradictions, we seem to adapt to every civilization who hosts us, and yet we adapt only to a point, and never past it. We are a people both assimilated to our hosts, and yet completely apart from them; and holding that contradiction in our heads is a mental contortion which only a Yiddisher kop can sustain.
The United States is supposed to be a country that guarantees religious freedom, and yet it is also supposed to be a country that holds church and state militantly separate. As there was no major Western religion yet in 1786 which did not believe in the absolute dominion of their people over all others, this was a an unresolvable contradiction, and yet from such contradictions came a more perfect union than any person thought conceivable in at the time of the Constitution’s formation. Therefore, the United States was a country built on the very same sort of contradictions as the Jewish people.
But for those whose minds cannot accept a paradox, the very existence of paradoxes gnaw at their minds, and these inevitable contradictions of life have to be snuffed out at their very root. Contradictions are implicit in the very act of living, and so, inevitably, their entire lives become devoted to this pursuit which they cannot ever fulfill.
Ilhan Omar is clearly a person not comfortable with paradoxes, or contradictions, or ambiguity (and if you pause to consider that those three words can mean the same thing, yet also very different things, you can begin to think like one of us…). Neither is Rashida Tlaib, neither certainly is Jeremy Corbyn, neither is Bernie Sanders, neither, it thus far seems, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and neither, certainly, are the millions upon millions of people who love them.
They adore these politicians who spell out their beliefs with absolute pellucid clarity. They adore these polticians’ authenticity. They adore the singleness, the sincerity, the simplicity, of their messages, just as others adored exactly the same sort of stupidity in Trump, Bush, Reagan, and Nixon.
But in the Clintons, in the elder Bush and Eisenhower, in Tony Blair and Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, even in Obama and Kennedy and Johnson, even in Roosevelt and Churchill, what these extremes of discourse abhorred was these leaders’ double-mindedness, their ambiguity, the fact that they did not hew to one solid system of belief but rather tailored their mentalities to what was possible within any given moment. They may have been liberal, they may have been conservative, and many of the decisions of each were wrong, but they were more interested in solutions than they were in ideological certainties. And at so many points, it seemed as though these monist people of mentalities solidly Conservative Republican or Social Democrat hated these wooly-minded leaders of liquid belief more than they did the Fascists or the Communists whom they professed were their true enemies. Eric Hoffer put it differently but better: ‘The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not.” Your religion may be Judaism, or it might be Christianity or Islam, or it might be Libertarian Objectivism or Socialism, but a religion does not need a god to convince a person renounce their critical judgement.
Those who crave simple explanations will always find them, but the world remains defiantly complicated. But if there is one simple truth to world history, it is that people who have trouble with paradoxes and ambiguity also have trouble with Jews.
There is no hater of Jews quite like the lover of humanity who loves our people so much that they want to vivisect from our bodies what they believe to be the worst aspects of our souls until all that remains is a person who thinks and feels and acts exactly as they do. And so keenly, so passionately, so fanatically, do they believe in their holy cause that they will ally themselves with the most base, most loathsome, most medieval, sins most original, in the long nightmare of Jewish history.
And, of course, they will not see the contradiction.
In the long run, it is not smart to demand a censure of Ilhan Omar in the House of Representatives. We don’t want to make a martyr of her, because behind her stands an army of twelve million Americans who flirted with socialism by voting Bernie Sanders in 2016. They know, and we should know, that they will become much more powerful in American life as time goes on, and we are playing right into their hands.
It’s not legitimate to presume any knowledge of how Ilhan Omar’s Muslim heritage and beliefs might inform her feelings about Jewish involvement in the Middle East. It is, however, legitimate to note that the current level of antisemitism in the Muslim world is quite possibly unprecedented since the days of the first Caliphates, and that the cliches about dual loyalty and Jews purchasing American political power with money are repeated every minute of day in media around the Islamic world.
Is it true? Do we have dual loyalties? Do we purchase American political power? Well, in the absolute sense which millions of people like Ilhan Omar demand, I suppose it is. But when has truth ever been so simple except to simple-minded people?
The size of a lobby’s campaign contributions are, by some distance, the best way to gauge the influence of any American lobby. In thirty years, AIPAC has donated $60 million to political campaigns, while the US Chamber of Commerce donated $1.5 billion. AIPAC is not even close the top 20 most influential lobbies in terms of campaign contributions. Whenever this is pointed out, people who believe sinister things about AIPAC’s influence say that it happens in more nebulous ways – that they direct the campaign contributions of their constituents – as though the average Jewish person will ever accept direction from another Jew…, that AIPAC was the prime force behind the Iraq War – even though there’s some evidence to suggest that Ariel Sharon advised President Bush against the war, or that AIPAC is responsible for the largesse of Israel’s aid packages – in spite of the fact that the US is somewhere between 13th and 18th in per capita foreign aid and it would cost comparatively little for the US government to fund a dozen other insecure countries the way the US funds Israel. So when it comes to organizations like AIPAC, these zealots who believe in ideological facts about the world so solid and clear they can never be moved, also believe in power structures so nebulous they can never be identified with solid evidence.
The truth is, of course, that 99% of the people who allege sinister things about AIPAC haven’t the foggiest idea what AIPAC does. I’d imagine Ilhan Omar numbers among them. But a simplistic worldview always demands a scapegoat, and the easiest scapegoats will always be people who see things complexly. Jocks always pick on nerds, and other religions, sacred or secular, will always pick on Jews.
We Jews are a complicated lot. How much more complicated are we now that we have what seems like the best chance at permanent success in our entire history? So even today, when the moral obligations of Jews of conscience get more and more complicated, what’s a Jew listening to his conscience to do if he’s not lazy enough to ignore facts?
On the one hand, the Netanyahu government stands on the precipice of an unprecedented fifth term in spite of Netanyahu’s indictment on criminal charges. We live in times when the line between democracy and autocracy is fungible indeed. But Israel on its worst day is still so much the better option than trusting the good faith of its neighbors. Where is another option but continued support of Israel, even under Netanyahu or someone still worse?
There are worse things that can happen to a people than a Nakba, the story of Jewish history has a couple dozen of them, and many of them not that long ago. Netanyahu remains the Prime Minister/Emperor of Israel, possibly about to go to war with a Lebanon whose civil war killed a 120-150,000 people, who will be supported by Syria, the neighbor to Israel’s northeast whose dictatorship recently launched a war against its own people which now kills nearly five-hundred thousand, with Egypt to its southwest whose government is perpetually endangered by an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood who pledges Holy War in its charter, while the Muslim Brotherhood bankrolls Hamas in Gaza – an organization which pledges the genocide of Jews in its own charter, with Jordan to its east that houses 2 million Palestinians who swear enmity to Israel in spite of the fact that King Hussain committed massacres against the Palestinian people whose casualties are greater than the casualties of any Israeli war in the territories, Jordan is contiguous with the West Bank controlled by the Fatah party – whose now longtime President, Mahmoud Abbas, the supposed moderate, holds a PhD which is literally a Holocaust conspiracy theory claiming that 6 million is a vastly overestimated total of casualties and that Holocaust, in so far as it exists, was a conspiracy between Nazis and Zionists. And we’re not even considering the various antisemitic malefactions of Saudi Arabia and Iran…
These are the people with whom we’re being demanded to make peace. Liberal Jewish Israel, full of contradictions and extremely ambiguous in its political situations as any liberal democracy will always be, and all the moreso for the region of its location and the history of its people, is supposedly the enemy of all progress. But maniacs whose behavior is self-evidently self-destructive, who wish death on millions upon millions, are supposedly progress’s allies. All because both sides share a hatred of everything ambiguous, and nothing in the world is more ambiguous than Jews.
And neither side of that antisemitic alliance sees the contradiction.