Dual allegiance: Exploring American Zionism


Can you be both a proud Zionist and a proud American or do you have to pick sides? Join Noam and Mijal as they tackle this decades-long debate, exploring the relationship between intersectionality and patriotism, offering fresh insights on the complexities of dual allegiance and Jewish identity today.

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Noam: Hey everyone, welcome to Wondering Jews with Mijal and Noam.

Mijal: I’m Mijal.

Noam: And I’m Noam and this podcast is our way of trying to understand the Jewish world. We don’t have it all figured out, so let’s try to figure it out together. But before we dive into this week’s episode, we’ll get to know each other a little bit and let the listeners get to know us too. This week, we have a question from a listener named Josh. Hey, Josh. Josh asks kind of a serious question, which I like, and I know Mijal, you’re going to like it too. Josh asks, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Mijal: So I would say, I mean, the wisest person in my life, Noam, I would say, is my mom, who I call really often with questions. And she has a phrase she’s used many, many times as advice to many questions. It’s a Hebrew phrase which says, אל תהיה צודק תהיה חכם. Don’t be right, be smart. Which I think it’s kind of saying, like, don’t always just try to be right, even if you might be right. Just try to look at a situation and figure out what’s the smart, and I would add here like pragmatic way of acting in a particular occasion. So that’s my mom’s voice that I have all the time.

Noam: I love that. And I, my amendation of that is my definition of Chacham, I feel like, is more wise. Like it’s not about being right, it’s about being wise.

Mijal: She says it like in Hebrew and in Spanish, so you can define chacham in a smarter way.

Mijal: What’s, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, Noam?

Noam: Okay, so mine, I think professionally the best piece of advice, I don’t have any pithy one-liner, is to make sure that professionally you do something where your passions intersect with your ability to earn money and it intersects with your talents. So where your passions, your talents. And your curiosity and your ability to earn money, all of that lines up together. That’s what everyone should be pursuing in the world. There you have it.

Mijal: And that’s why you’re a podcaster, Noam.

Noam: Exactly. Nailed it. So let’s get this out in the open, Mijal. So here’s the other part of what I want to say. I do this little exercise often where I go to groups of people, groups of students. And I ask them to write out a sentence answering this question, who are you? And they have to answer the question in under 10 words, I am. I think I got this idea from “The Righteous Mind” at some point, I think so. And…

Mijal: He writes it there? Okay, keep going.

Noam: He might, he might not, I don’t know.

Mijal: Jonathan Haidt, okay.

Noam: And Jonathan Haidt, exactly. They could say whatever’s on their mind. And when I do it in Jewish audiences, I’m always interested to see and hear what their response will be. Invariably out of a group of a hundred or so, the majority of them will either describe their state, their emotions. They’ll say, I am happy, or I am sad, or maybe they’ll say, I’m an athlete, or maybe they’ll say, I am Jewish. That’s most of the time. A few of them will say, I am a Zionist, but only very few of them.

I wanna tell you that if someone were to ask me this question and has said to me, Noam, I want you to write out the sentence, I am, 10 times. Without a doubt, one of the 10 sentences would absolutely be, I am a Zionist. That’s who I am. It’s part of my identity. It’s a big part of my identity.

Now. Many of you listening are probably saying, yeah, Noam, of course you identify as a Zionist as a key part of your identity. You have a podcast about Israel, and Mijal, tell me if I’m wrong. And I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I am imagining, I’m imagining you are a Zionist too. Would you agree with that?

Mijal: 100%, although I’m like frustrated that you described the exercise before like letting me do it, that would have been so smart. Fun.

Noam: Ah, you know what that would have been? That would have been wise. No, that would have been wise over right. That’s what that would have been. I should have done that.

Mijal: Very wise, yeah. Yeah, I don’t know if I would write I’m a Zionist in like my first 10, but, yes, I’m a Zionist.

Noam: So Mijal I’m going to ask you a more specific question in a couple minutes, but I want to start with asking this question. What does it mean for you to identify as a Zionist?

Mijal: Big question. First of all, I’ll say, that people define Zionism in like lots of different ways. And very often people who say they are or they aren’t are actually using different definitions of Zionism.

Noam: I think that’s a very important point. So what doesn’t it mean to be a Zionist and what does it mean to be a Zionist for you?

Mijal: So for me right now, I’m going to give a very minimalist definition of Zionism, because it’s the one that I’ve been thinking about since like October 7th and all of the narrative arguments. To be a Zionist for me means that I look back at 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel. And I think that’s a good thing. And if I could go back in history, I wouldn’t change it. And I want to embrace it as something generally good. That’s like my bare bones definition of what it means to be a Zionist.

Noam: Okay, I like it.

Mijal: It’s not everything. I love Israel and I can talk about that as well, but that’s like my very thin definition. What’s your definition?

Noam: You know, Katie Couric just had me on her show and she asked me what it means to be a Zionist.

Mijal: Ooooh, that’s exciting now, how was that?

Noam: Yeah, yeah, it was, it was exciting. She’s an American icon, it was exciting. And she asked me what it means to be a Zionist. 

Mijal: You said it very casually.

Noam: And I, yeah, well, you gotta play it off like you’ve been there before, you know.

Mijal: What did you answer? What did you answer when she asked you?

Noam: I quoted A.B. Yehoshua.

Mijal: Who’s A.B. Yehoshua?

A.B. Yehoshua is this great Israeli philosopher who really helps us think about how to be modern, how to be a Zionist, how to criticize the government and maybe still be a Zionist. He’s a great writer, a great writer in Israel. And A.B. Yehoshua said that Zionism is a common platform, not an exclusive ideology. And what is that common platform? I think the common platform, this is my definition of it, is to continue building the national liberation of the Jewish people. I don’t view Zionism as something that happened. I view Zionism as something that is still happening. And we need to continue to activate it in order to have the healthiest Jewish identity.

Mijal: Okay, that was like a little bit jargon-y. So you said platform for the continuous liberation of the Jewish people?

Noam: Yes.

Mijal: Yeah, that’s, It sounds very general because you could argue you could do that in America. Like, where’s the land of Israel there? Where’s the state of Israel?

Noam: Yeah, great. So it’s, It’s the national liberation of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, which is the state of Israel, which is the land of Israel. You know what I’ve been thinking recently actually about Zionism? I just came up with this today, and I think it’s spot on. You’ll tell me if I’m wrong.

Mijal: I really want to tell you that you’re wrong. You just primed me to be like, you’re wrong.

Noam: I know, I know, because like no matter what you want to be like, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, but just hear me out, hear this idea out. People really struggle with starting the Zionist story with the Jewish story with Herzl, because you’re like, whoa, come on, the story of Zionism doesn’t start in the late 19th century.

Mijal: With like an Ashkenazi dude who like, you know, just runs everything.

Noam: Yeah, come on, come on. Like what about Rabbi Yehuda Alkali, another great Sephardic rabbi, right?

Mijal: There we go.

Noam: He’s before Herzl and he wanted to activate the Jewish people. So here’s the deal. Zionism is not something that is a new idea in the late 19th century. Zionism, this belief that we have to activate the Jewish people to return to their ancestral homeland in order to have a healthy Jewish identity which combines body and soul? This is an idea that’s existed for thousands of years, but this is the new idea I came up with. Herzl just finally gave a business plan for that idea. That’s all it is. He came up with the business plan to make it happen.

Mijal: Ah.

Noam: And so therefore people think it’s a modern idea. It’s not a modern idea. It is a modern concept, which is called a business plan that he activated. That’s what I think.

Mijal: Ah. Interesting. Yeah, I don’t think you’re wrong, Noam, which is frustrating.

Noam: I’m sorry to disappoint!

Mijal: So annoying. I mean, it was not the best business plan. Most people thought it would go bankrupt very soon, you know, from his ideas. And he also brought like a sense of urgency, like, you know, like.

Noam: Yeah, yes.

Mijal: It’s not just like a messianic idea in the end of days. And you know, we can actually make, okay, we can go in like a Herzl rabbit hole, which I mean, like I would love to talk about Herzl and that, but you said you had a more specific question.

Noam: So here’s my more specific question. You’re, Mijal, you’re an American. I’m an American. We both live in the United States of America.

Mijal: I am a naturalized citizen, very proud of it.

Noam: Okay, good job. Did you have to take a test?

Mijal: Yes, yes, it was a very, it was also a very frustrating experience because they give you this like…

Noam: There is no way that you got less than a 98% on that test.

Mijal: That’s not why I was frustrated. Like I took AP government and AP American history and all of these courses before, you know, when I had a green card, and then they give you like this booklet with like a hundred questions, which I knew most of them, but of course, and you know me by now, Noam, I studied for a very long time. And then they ask you like five questions and you can get two of them wrong or something like that. And it was incredibly frustrating because I wanted to show my patriotism by knowing so much about America. But anyways, keep going. We are both proud Americans.

Noam: Well, OK, so clearly, but clearly you got the right answers and you’re an American and I’m an American.

Mijal: I did, I did. I begged for more questions, but they wouldn’t do it. But yeah, yeah. Yes, yes. Very.

Noam: and. Of course, you did, of course you did. You’re like, let me prove it to you just how American I am. So you’re a proud American and you’re a proud Zionist.

Mijal: Very.

Noam: OK, so let me let me paint a bigger picture. Let me paint a picture for those of you who don’t know.

Mijal: Are you also a proud American and a proud Zionist? We’re both there, yeah?

Noam: Well, I would say I am proud about many aspects of my American identity, and I’m proud of many aspects of my Zionist identity. So that’s…

Mijal: Wow, that was a lot of disclaimers. Okay, keep going.

Noam: So, yes, I’m proud American, proud Zionist. So here’s the deal. I’m painting a picture for everyone listening. Listen to this. If you don’t know this, you got to know this. At the start of a basketball game, a Jewish high school basketball game, in the United States of America, typically, what will happen is before that game, two national anthems will be reverberating throughout the stadium. They’re not really stadiums. They’re like little like gyms or gym-lets. We can even call them. And national anthem number one is typically the Israeli national anthem. National anthem number two, if you’re in the United States of America, is the American national anthem. the star-spangled banner, and the Israeli national anthem is Hatikva. Both are played. First of all, Mijal, is that okay? Is that a problem? Is it okay to have allegiance to multiple countries? What do you think?

Mijal: Okay, sorry, I’m still stuck with the example because I haven’t been to many basketball games. I’m trying to… You asked me to paint a picture. I was painting a picture.

Noam: Okay, I’ve seen you play sports. I’ve seen you play sports. You have game.

Mijal: Oh, Noam, don’t bring that here. Don’t bring that here. That’s the bonus episode for those who pay us a lot of money. Okay. Noam, before I answer this question, I want to say that let’s just put our cards on the table. I think where you’re getting to here is like a big question that many people ask, which is do American Zionists have double loyalties in a way that are somehow non-patriotic towards being an American.

Noam: Right, with a subtext being that this notion of dual loyalty means that really you care less about the United States of America and you have a bigger goal to some foreign place. That’s the assumption. That it’s the universal Jew maybe, it’s the Jew that doesn’t really care about its people in the United States or whatever country it’s in. It cares more deeply about, in some sinister way by the way, about a foreign entity.

Mijal: I wouldn’t call it the universal Jew, by the way. I would call that like the parochial, you know, particularist Jew who cares about their own community.

Noam: Okay. Oh yeah. You know what? You’re right.

Mijal: Thank you. So first of all, I do just want to name that… I want us to address the question seriously, but I also want to name the fact that this question, I just think it has a history. It has a history of Jews being accused historically of double loyalty. And let me say something here, Noam. I have Argentinian citizenship, I was born in Argentina. okay? Because of my mom who was born in Spain, long story, I have Spanish citizenship.

Noam: Wow.

Mijal: So, and I’ll tell you something, people are not walking around and asking, oh, do you have dual loyalty when you have like, you know, Argentinian Americans or Mexican Americans or like Russian Americans or Ukrainian Americans with all of these conflicts that exist? So I do think it’s important to note and recognize that this canard, it’s like an accusation, there’s a conspiracy behind it. But this like thing of like Jews and double loyalty, very often I think it’s used in ways that I find flirting or like directly going with like antisemitic kind of attitudes. So I just want to name that. I think it’s important to name it.

Noam: I gotta dive in there, sorry. Number one is, are you a Messi fan?

Mijal: Messi? Of course I’m a Messi fan. How dare you ask that? Noam, if you ask me to write my 10 I am, it’s like I am a Messi fan. I am a Messi fan.

Noam: So when you have to tell me when you come down to South Florida, we got to go to a game, a Miami game. That’s a must.

Mijal: I would love that.

Noam: But so you’re a Messi fan, well, let me ask you a good question. Okay. Better question. World Cup. It’s Argentina versus the United States of America. Who you rooting for?

Mijal: Argentina. Sorry, it wasn’t even a question.

Noam: And why? Why? No, it’s not even a question. Why? And that’s the case for a lot of people who have a relationship either because their parents are from a certain country. They root for Mexico. They root for Canada. They do. Why? French.

Mijal: Yeah, but by the way, this doesn’t mean that if there’s like a war between Argentina and America, I want Argentina, just with, with soccer, with football, like it’s just so much like in the Argentinian DNA and it’s so much part of who I am as an Argentinian. So I think there it’s obvious to me, but, but I guess, but, but the point that I do want to make, Noam, is that We all have multiple allegiances and many people have multiple national allegiances. So I want to insist that we can walk and chew gum at the same time so I think that we can I think that we can both insist on saying we need to explore this question it’s an important one and also insist on saying hey there’s a history to this question I mean you mentioned Herzl before.

So one of the myths around Herzl, you can tell me, this is like your other podcast, right? But one of the myths about Herzl is that he woke up to anti-Semitism with the Dreyfus trial in France, right? A myth in the sense of him having been there, right? And Dreyfus is an example of a Jew who was falsely accused of like disloyalty to his country for like no real reason.

Noam: Yeah, that’s a great point, Mijal. I did not connect Herzl and Dreyfus to the issue of dual loyalty, but it’s exactly what happened. It’s actually exactly what spurred Zionism in the sense that it was the final straw for Herzl that someone as secular and as committed to his country as Dreyfus would be accused of sedition and would be accused by the mobs without even knowing the story as somehow against the country that he lives in, that he sacrifices life for, that he fought for. But the point is exactly what you’re saying. It’s not as simple as, hey, you’re supportive of both the United States and Argentina. No, no, what it’s going on here with the United States and Israel is there is a history to it that you cannot ignore. That’s what I mean by you’re right.

Mijal: Yeah. And this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the question, right? But I think we’re in this like…

Noam: OK, so what’s it? So so tell me, tell me why it’s a good question. I think it’s important exercise. I really do. Why is it a good question?

Mijal: Well, OK, I think it’s a good question because number one, it’s being asked. So that means that it’s good to consider it and to have both generous and also less generous kind of approaches towards it. By generous, I mean taking it generously and also suspiciously. I also think it’s a good question because we can ask this for so many areas in life. Do you love your career or your family? And I think we often give like pat answers. We can love everything.

Noam: Right. Right, right.

Mijal: And then you can also go to like edge cases and come up with big theoretical exercises and say, sure, very often values and loves and commitments. You know, I would identify as like someone who’s traditional and follows orthodox law. I’m also a feminist. And most of the time, those things coexist really nicely together. But then there’s places where it’s like, I almost have to make choices when implications or commitments kind of come up, rub up against each other. And those can sometimes be clarifying as to where you are. So that’s why I think it’s a good question to ask in general for anybody who wants to be intentional about values and about who we are in the world.

Noam: I like that and I want to add one other reason why I think it’s a really important question. I think it’s important because it gets to another point to the Jewish world and to any group of peoples. I think it’s important as a value, and I think it’s a Jewish value, to be a good citizen. And we see that throughout the Jewish story in synagogue, for example, temple, shul, whatever you call it.

Mijal: Canisa, that’s the Persians often say that, some Syrians say canisa, but sorry, I interrupted.

Noam: Okay. Okay, Kenesa, I sound okay. Yeah, Kenesa, another example. So every week, one of the things that we do is that we make a blessing or we say a prayer on behalf or for the country in which we live. And we think that is a very important value. And if it’s the case that your allegiance to Argentina, to Mexico is at the expense of your country and you’re antagonistic towards your country and you’re appreciative of the place in which you live, well then that becomes a problem. That’s what I think.

Mijal: Uh, yeah, I agree with that. But again, it’s a very modern kind of like, we are so lucky that we’re in America, that we can like embrace this country because of the way this country has embraced us. I don’t know if like, I would feel the same way, four centuries ago, my relatives in Morocco or in Syria or whatever.

Noam: So meaning. I’m gonna it sounds like I’m wandering, but I promise you I’m just wondering.

Mijal: Oh, okay. Go for it. Okay.

Noam: If you’re in Kiev, or if you’re in Addis, in Ethiopia or Ukraine or previously the Soviet Union, what you’re basically saying is, you’re not necessarily supportive of and proud of the country in which you live. And so therefore, why is it necessary to ultimately be supportive and pray on behalf of your government? And then on top of that, There is a more urgent need to have a Zionist worldview. Meaning the modern American might not even see the value of Zionism, the value of this national liberation project in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people because of the fact that living in the United States of America, living in Canada, living in Australia, living in the United Kingdom, it’s pretty good. It’s a good life, and specifically in the United States of America, I must say. It’s a good life, and it’s been very good to the Jewish people, specifically over the last number of decades. It’s a good time to be Jewish in the United States of America compared to the rest of world history. Agreed? And so therefore it’s harder to necessarily see the value or the necessity of Zionism.

Mijal: Okay, so you said like a bunch of things here, Noam.

Noam: Oh, I did, I did, I did. That was me wondering, that was me wondering!

Mijal: First of all, I think if we think about those countries that you, like there is Jewish wisdom and Jewish law about how to approach your society. And we have the rabbis who talk about praying for the government, even like in really bad place, I mean like bad for Jews and bad in general. Because of stability and because of wanting to have good relations. You know, a whole bunch of stuff there. But I think the other question you brought here, Noam, this might even deserve its own episode, which is like, why do we need to be Zionists if we’re happy in America? If I am, if I feel so strongly that I am a proud American, I love this country so much, I really do. And then why am I also a Zionist? Like, why is this not enough?

And I think that’s a really big question, but I don’t wanna lose track of the question you brought before, which is, how do we think about the tension between being an American and being a Zionist? So I’m curious for you now, is this something that you’ve thought about and that you’ve figured out how to address this tension? Is there a tension for you? Is the question even, because I mostly said that I’m not sure that the question is so valid, and then I didn’t give a way to address it, but I’m curious if you’ve thought about it.

Noam: So let me give my take on this. I think we’re lucky that the, not just lucky, and I don’t think, it’s not just that we’re lucky that if you’re an American that you also can and should support the vision of Zionism. They go hand in hand. The vision of Zionism said that there should be liberation of the Jewish people. The vision of the United States of America is that there should be a liberation of the American people.

And it gives language and it gives legs to this ability to self-determine. And so the United States of America and the state of Israel has grown together since 1948. It wasn’t the case always that the United States was the number one ally of Israel, but it is the case that President Truman helped bring Israel into formation.

And after the late sixties and early seventies, it became the number one ally of the state of Israel. Because of shared values, because of a common destiny, because of the importance of democracy, because of the importance of ensuring that whomever is living in Israel has the opportunity to live with dignity. And to live within a democracy. Yes, an imperfect democracy. And yes, the United States of America is an imperfect republic. Yes, that is true. But there are shared values, and that’s why one of the early Supreme Court justices in the early 20th century-

Mijal: I was gonna just tell you, sound just like Brandeis. Go for it. You’re like, you’re giving your version of Brandeis.

Noam: Okay, so tell me what you’re gonna say about- no, tell me- No, tell me what you’re gonna say about Brandeis, go for it.

Mijal: Well, he was an early, early 20th century, American, uh, jurist. Um, and he was an early Zionist in America at a time in which most Americans just were not Zionists. And he had to really deal with this question of dual loyalty. Cause that was like a big question then.

Noam: Yeah.

Mijal: And the way that he approached it, I heard it reverberate in your words, is basically saying there’s no tension here. To be a good American, you have to also care about other identities. So you can be like a good Irish person who cares about Ireland and its wellbeing. And you can be a Jew who cares about what’s happening in what was then like, pre-state Palestine and the Jewish settlement there. So he basically argued that there’s enough, I don’t know if he was going for shared values or if he was saying part of what it means to be an American is to care about this kind of communities that you come from as well.

Noam: Yeah, 100%. Your articulation, The second one is what Brandeis believed in. So I want to ask you, yeah, go, go.

Mijal: Noam, it’s funny, cause I feel like we’re just getting like, you know, into the hard parts though, because we could also just like, let’s give a hypothetical. So let’s say that I wanted to tell you there is this conflict happening somewhere. And for America to do X action would help the national interest of Israel, but it would hurt America’s national interest.

I’m not even saying war, cause that’s like two, whatever, like war one against the other, I hate that one. I’m just making it a little bit simpler.

Noam: Right. Yeah, it is a good hypothetical. Again, I feel very fortunate that these two countries are, when it comes to allyship, it’s hard to think of two countries that are closer bedfellows. So it really is in the realm of the hypothetical.

Mijal: Yeah, but Noam, a hypothetical. Yes.

Noam: I know. So I think that it depends, is my answer. If I am a government official and I work for the United States and I am part of the American military, then it’s my responsibility to ensure that I am fulfilling my responsibility as an American first and foremost.

If I am somebody who is an average civilian and part of my identity is that the Jewish people need to be saved more than anything else. And that’s the only thing that is my priority, I should say. And 46% of world Jewry lives in Israel. Then you know what? I have a view of history that looks at the last few thousand years and the Jewish people are my people.

And if 46% of the world Jewry is going to suffer, I just care more about that. That’s the way I think about it. What about you?

Mijal: Maybe this is where like, where maybe I’m not as honest as I should be in the sense that I would evade the question. I would say you can always have like multiple versions of national interests and different opinions as to what is in the national interest of America or Israel. You can have like huge conversations there. This was like a trick question, because I’m going to respond to it by saying, yes, what, Noam, what.

Noam: Yeah, well, you asked a trick question, I fell right into the trap because what you’re gonna do I know what you’re gonna do you’re gonna insist on extenuating circumstances and demonstrate how ultimately the two can never really collide and they both actually work together even in this hypothetical in which they do collide. That’s what you’re going to do.

Mijal: Well, I was going to one-up your jargon and say, I’m going to deessentialize. You can have a big argument. What’s good for America? What’s good for Israel? And at times, you can be an American citizen who thinks that the government is betraying its own values. So you can be a critic or a protester of American government, but do it from a patriotic place.

Noam: Love it. You solved the riddle. Look at you. I failed. You solved the riddle.

Mijal: You didn’t fail, you were a little bit more honest. But I think, yeah, let’s do some takeaways. Do you have a couple? This conversation is not over. I think it’s one that we live with.

Noam: Yeah. We do live with it. We do live with it.

Mijal: And we’re going to keep probably coming back to some of this. Yeah. But what’s your one or two takeaways?

Noam: My takeaway is that it is much better to be wise than to be right. That is that is number one takeaway.

Mijal: But my mom is always right, basically. That’s the takeaway.

Noam: OK, that yeah, exactly that you’re my exactly that your mom somehow figured out how to be both right and wise. So I love that. I love it. And my other takeaway is that. What you said. I think it’s a little bit of earlier in the conversation where we don’t really need to be asking this question. It’s a good question because it’s a philosophical question, but we don’t really ask this question about other nations. And so my takeaway is that in the realm of the hypothetical, we could go there. Broadly speaking, you know what? There is no real ultimate contradiction between the two, and you can be a proud American, and you can be a proud Zionist.

Mijal: Yeah, I think my takeaway, I think at some point you spoke maybe a different episode about really listening to your emotions or your feelings. I have so much love for America, and so much love for Israel, and they don’t feel in conflict. They make up some of the commitments that shape me. We can love a lot of different things and different people and different commitments. And that’s part of what makes us extraordinary and ordinary, you know, at the same time.

Noam: True. Yeah. Totally agreed. As they say, some of my best friends are American, some of my best friends are Israeli. And some are Argentinians. All right. Okay. I will see you at the next Messi game.

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