Real Israeli-American dual loyalty has to be earned, not bestowed.

Yes, I admit it: I am guilty of dual loyalty, to both my homeland, the United States, and to my adopted nation, Israel.

Fortunately for me I live in the latter, where not many people seem to care about the strong feelings I still have for the Old Country. In fact, native Israelis tend to be more suspicious or cynical of the fact that I’m even still hanging on here, despite the fact I hold American citizenship. In their eyes, I’m not guilty of dual loyalty, but of too much naive or misguided loyalty to Zionist ideals that not many Israelis nowadays, and very few American Jews ever, really bother to take seriously.

Unfortunately, the same doesn’t seem to hold true in the U.S., where periodically the charge of dual loyalty creeps up from its permanent base in the subterranean societal stratum of anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, far-right hate groups, to more elevated realms of public discourse.

The latest outburst has come during the past two months regarding the role of several prominent American-Jewish “neoconservatives” in formulating the Bush administration’s war policy on Iraq, a group that includes Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, National Security Council official Elliott Abrams, policy adviser Richard Perle and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol.

Together they form an updated version of Pat Buchanan’s notorious “amen corner” of Israel supporters in Washington supposedly pushing America into a war with Iraq that is largely for Israel’s benefit. But whereas during the first Gulf War Buchanan’s remarks remarks were met with widespread condemnation and derision, questions about about an alleged Jewish neoconservative “cabal” steering the U.S. into battle are being asked, and taken, on a much more serious level.

Columnist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, a veteran antagonist of Israel-supporters, has dubbed the coming conflict “Sharon’s war,” and has in turn has been accused by New Republic senior editor Lawrence Kaplan of injecting “toxic talk” into Iraq debate. Washington Times columnist Georgie Anne Geyer has taken aim at “the fanatic neoconservatives around the administration, the rabid Israel supporters in the White House and the Pentagon.”

Former presidential candidate Gary Hart clearly seemed to be targeting Jewish-American supporters of Israel when he said that we “must not let our role in the world be dictated by Americans who too often find it hard to distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests.”

Earlier in March at an anti-war rally, Virginian Democratic Congressman James P. Moran Jr. of Virginia declared that, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.” And on Meet the Press, host Tim Russert, taking note of the growing debate about Israel’s role in America’s Iraq policy, asked Perle point-blank: “Can you assure American viewers across our country that we’re in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?”

Clearly, while the war would be good for the Jews or at least for those of us living in the Jewish state, such war-talk is not.

Most Jewish neoconservatives make no bones about the fact that they see in the Iraq war a fortuitous convergence of (according to their geopolitical perspective) American and Israeli interests, based on the theory that toppling Saddam will help plant the seeds of Arab democracy and moderation throughout a region that spawned Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

“I don’t see what would be wrong with surrounding Israel with democracies, “Perle responded to Russert. “Indeed, if the whole world were democratic, we’d live in a much safer international security system because democracies do not wage aggressive wars.”

That’s an eminently reasonable, cards-on-the-table response. So why the recent outbursts about the role played by American Jews in formulating Bush’s Iraq policy? What’s changed since last autumn, when Slate columnist Michael Kinsley called it the “proverbial elephant in the room, everybody sees it, no one mentions it.”

The problem, I suspect, is that so far almost nothing has changed. The longer the Bush Administration drags its feet in finally firing the opening shot, the more and more ineptly it handles the diplomatic buildup to hostilities, and Bush’s increasing failure to clearly articulate his reasons and goals (his desultory performance in last week’s press conference only strengthened my fantasy that Tony Blair will be appointed White House spokesperson) only fuels a mounting anti-war opposition that in its flailing about sometimes dips down into the lower realms of traditional anti-Semitic innuendo.

Do Americans of European descent risk being accused of dual loyalty if they question whether war with Iraq will strain US ties with France and Germany? Of course not. And if these are the kinds of questions being raised when George “My favorite philosopher is Jesus” Bush is in the White House, I shudder to think what Novak and Co. would be saying if it were Joe Lieberman sending U.S. boys into battle in the Middle East.

Are Perle, Wolfowitz, Kristol et al guilty of dual loyalty? I think not. In fact, accusing them only cheapens the term, in my book. Real Israeli-American dual loyalty has to be earned, not bestowed. Try paying taxes to both countries, for starters. Or staying in Israel for nearly two decades when most of the fellow American immigrants you came with have gone back home. Or really paying the regional consequences of the next Gulf War if the Bush team’s best-laid plans go awry.

I wouldn’t say I’m proud to be a dual loyalist but having chosen to divide my patriotism between two nations, I can’t think of two better than America and Israel.

But please, let’s not throw the term around too loosely for both the sake of America’s 100-percent-loyal Jewish citizens, and this admittedly somewhat more divided one.

(Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post)