Editor’s Note: Brad Schneider of Illinois, Elaine Luria of Virginia and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey are Democratic members of the House. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own; view more opinion at CNN.
This week, millions of Americans attended Ash Wednesday services. Less than a century removed from a time when Catholic citizens were routinely accused of dual loyalty to the Pope in Rome, our Catholic colleagues, with ash marks on their foreheads, spoke confidently from the floor of the House, participated in committee hearings, and conducted their official business. No one questioned their loyalty, patriotism, and devotion to serving their country and constituents. We make this observation with pride as a reflection of the progress we continue to make toward our founders’ vision of a more perfect union.
We are three Jewish members of the US House of Representatives. One of us served 20 years as an officer in the US Navy, deploying six times in defense of our nation. She is married to a Navy veteran. Another is the father of a current Navy officer who in his first two years of service deployed three times for his country. One is the grandson of a World War II veteran who fought the Nazis and is married to a woman whose grandparents lost their entire family in the Holocaust. Our loyalty to our country runs deep.
That is why we were disappointed by the comments of our colleague Congresswoman Ilhan Omar suggesting supporters of Israel “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” The dual loyalty canard is one of the more common and most pernicious attacks used to discredit “the other.” It was deployed in the last century against Catholics like Al Smith and John Kennedy. It’s used today to vilify immigrants, minorities, and people of non-Christian faiths, including both Jews and Muslims.
For Jews in particular, the charge has a long and bloody history that persists to the present day. A 2014 global survey by the Anti-Defamation League 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.’”
As Jews, we have a unique understanding that anti-Semitic tropes, and in particular the accusation of dual loyalty, has led to pogroms, expulsions and death on a grand scale. We also understand that the pernicious idea that Jews cannot be faithful to our country has been an excuse to marginalize and exclude us from full and equal civic engagement. It now seems to be an argument that we should not be advocates for a strong US-Israel relationship.
We are indeed ardent and vocal supporters of Israel and advocates for a robust relationship between America and Israel. We recognize that Israel is unequivocally our most reliable and most important ally in a very complex and dangerous region.
We also recognize that, like all of our allies, we will not always agree with or support every Israeli policy or action. Criticism of Israel can be at times fair and appropriate, and part of an important debate about US interests and priorities. But it is vital this discussion focuses on policy differences, not anti-Semitic tropes.
We welcome this debate, and we have no desire to prevent anyone from criticizing Israel or the US-Israel relationship. That is because we know the longstanding, bipartisan support in Congress for the US-Israel relationship is based on a bedrock of mutual strategic interests and shared democratic values. This common cause is why the special relationship is so long supported by overwhelming majorities of the American people on both sides of the aisle.
Loyal Americans can passionately support the Jewish state and a close US-Israel relationship, just as they can passionately support the aspiration for a Palestinian state. In fact, as lifelong supporters of Israel, we remain fully committed to a two-state solution, ultimately with a Palestinian state living side by side in security, peace and prosperity with the Jewish state of Israel.
We hope that Rep. Ilhan Omar will recognize this fact and steer clear of unjustifiably questioning the allegiance of supporters of Israel.