Jonathan Muskat

The Accusation of Dual Loyalty: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective


As we celebrate the Fourth of July, a day that embodies the principles of freedom and independence, American Jews face a unique challenge: how to balance their loyalty to the United States with their connection to Israel and Jewish identity. This blog delves into the historical roots, notable instances, and modern implications of the dual loyalty accusation against Jews, exploring how this charge has been used to justify discrimination and violence, and how it challenges diaspora Jewry today.

Historical Background

The charge of dual loyalty dates back thousands of years and has been a recurring motif in antisemitic rhetoric. In the Middle Ages, Christian leaders propagated the idea that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and engaged in ritualistic child murder, leading to frequent attacks on Jewish communities across Europe. This foundation of distrust and scapegoating set the stage for future accusations.

One significant historical instance was during the French Revolution when Napoleon emancipated the Jews in France. He offered full equality on the condition that Jews would reaffirm their allegiance to French law, attempting to dismantle the notion of Jews as a “nation within a nation.”

In 1840, the Damascus Affair starkly illustrated the dangers of the dual loyalty accusation. A Christian’s disappearance led to the arrest and forced confession of a Jewish barber, resulting in widespread violence against the Jewish community. French political involvement complicated the situation further, as French Jews were caught between supporting their government’s Middle Eastern ambitions and standing against the wrongful persecution of their co-religionists. The involvement of Adolphe Cremieux, a Jewish French politician, in securing the release of the imprisoned Jews only intensified the debate over Jewish loyalty to France.

Notable Cases of Dual Loyalty Accusations

The case of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894 is one of the most infamous examples of the dual loyalty accusation. Dreyfus, a Jewish French military captain, was falsely accused of treason and espionage, allegedly passing secrets to Germany. His wrongful conviction was celebrated by an antisemitic press, which highlighted his Jewish identity to underscore his supposed betrayal.

During the Nazi era, Jews were vilified as traitors who had supposedly undermined Germany’s war efforts in World War I. Hitler’s propaganda machine used this accusation to justify the systematic persecution and eventual genocide of the Jewish people.

In the Soviet Union, Stalin labeled Jewish intellectuals as “rootless cosmopolitans,” accusing them of lacking loyalty to the state. Similarly, before the establishment of Israel, Arab Jews faced accusations of prioritizing Zionist agendas over their countries’ interests, leading to massacres and mass arrests, particularly after the Six-Day War.

Modern Context and Implications

In contemporary times, the accusation of dual loyalty persists, often surfacing in political and academic discourse. In 2007, professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer controversially argued in “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” that the so-called “Israel lobby” exerted disproportionate influence on American politics, suggesting an embedded foreign agenda within the US government.

On US college campuses, Jewish students often face demands to denounce Israeli policies to participate in progressive movements, implicitly questioning their loyalty to American values. This mirrors a broader societal suspicion where Jewish Americans are viewed through the lens of potential disloyalty.

Halachic Perspective on Dual Loyalty

Halacha provides a framework for understanding the concept of loyalty. According to Halacha, Jews are obligated to observe the laws of the land in which they reside, a principle known as “dina d’malchuta dina” (the law of the land is the law). This principle underscores a commitment to being law-abiding citizens without compromising religious obligations.

Different rabbinic authorities have nuanced views on this obligation. The Rema (Rabbi Moses Isserles) contends that the principle applies primarily to taxation and laws that benefit society. The Tashbetz (Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran) asserts it doesn’t extend to halachic prohibitions, while Maimonides (Rambam) excludes discriminatory laws from this obligation.

Thus, Jewish law mandates compliance with fair, non-discriminatory laws, rejecting any assumption that Jews inherently seek to undermine their host country’s laws or interests. This legal and ethical stance reinforces the notion that Jews can simultaneously be devoted citizens and faithful adherents of their religion.

Loyalty and Identity

The concept of loyalty extends beyond mere legal compliance. A loyal citizen is deeply committed to their country’s values, institutions, and well-being. This raises the question: Can one be a loyal Jew, a loyal American, and a loyal Zionist?

From a Jewish perspective, the primary loyalty is to God. This spiritual allegiance transcends geographical boundaries and underpins a commitment to broader societal welfare. Rabbenu Yonah in his commentary to “Pirkei Avot” (3:2) writes that our obligation to pray for the welfare of the government is premised on the obligation to feel the pain of others. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in “Horeb” (pp. 461-462), emphasizes the obligation for Jews to be patriotic and actively contribute to the welfare of the nations in which they reside. This includes obeying the laws of the land, providing for the common good, and sacrificing for the country’s defense when necessary. In his essay “Confrontation,” Rabbi Soloveitchik emphasized the importance of engagement with the broader non-Jewish society, advocating for the general welfare and progress of humanity.

The American Context

In the American context, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein characterized America as a “medina shel chesed” (a benevolent country), emphasizing a sense of gratitude and obligation towards a nation that has afforded Jews unprecedented freedoms and opportunities. This view aligns with the broader Jewish ethical mandate to contribute positively to the societies in which Jews live.

However, Jews have historically been seen not just as tolerated minorities but as integral members of society. Early American Jewish leaders, such as Moses Seixas, articulated this vision of equality in their correspondence with George Washington. This foundational principle of equal citizenship fosters a unique sense of belonging and loyalty among American Jews.

Deciding between Jewish and American loyalties involves balancing the prioritization of Jewish causes, which take precedence, with the responsibility to positively impact the broader society. Rabbi Lamm emphasized “enlightened self-interest,” suggesting that while we must care for our own community, we should also contribute to the world at large, aligning with Hillel’s teaching of אם אין אני לי מי לי וכשאני לעצמי מה אני – “if I am not for myself who am I,” i.e., self-interest and “when I am for myself what am I,” i.e., communal contribution. As devoted and caring citizens, Jews can serve in the US army if their religious needs are met. Ultimately, our primary loyalty is to God, who calls for kindness and grace towards all. Thus, Jews do not experience dual loyalty but rather a single loyalty to God.

Zionism and Americanism

The question of whether Zionist support conflicts with American loyalty has been a point of contention. In the mid-1910s, most American Jews were at best ambivalent about Zionism, precisely because it exacerbated the anxiety of dual loyalty. At this time, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a prominent Zionist, argued that Zionism and Americanism are compatible, rooted in shared democratic ideals. This perspective highlights the alignment of American and Zionist values, both striving for justice, equality, and human dignity.


The accusation of dual loyalty is an enduring antisemitic trope that questions the integrity and patriotism of Jewish individuals. Historically and in contemporary times, this charge has been used to justify discrimination, violence, and exclusion. However, Jewish law and ethical teachings firmly reject the notion that Jews inherently undermine their host countries.

Jewish identity encompasses a multifaceted loyalty to God, society, and humanity. In democratic societies like the United States, where principles of equality and freedom resonate with Jewish values, Jews can be both loyal citizens and devoted members of the Jewish community. The challenge lies in navigating this complex identity with integrity, contributing to the welfare of all while remaining true to one’s religious and cultural heritage.

In essence, Jews do not suffer from dual loyalty; rather, they embody a singular loyalty to a set of ethical and spiritual principles that guide their interactions with both their immediate and broader communities. This commitment to God and humanity ensures that Jews remain dedicated to justice, compassion, and the common good, whether in America, Israel, or anywhere else in the world.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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