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Letter | Celebrating Israel is a vital part of Jewish education – and American experience

The charge of dual loyalty has trailed the Jewish people for millennia, a curse that has been used to justify the persecution of Jews across continents and cultures. It is not rooted in reality, but the invocation of this lie has forced us to defend ourselves time and again. Today, some extremists employ this trope to explain their inexplicable hatred of Jews, often leading to violence.

At a time of surging anti-Semitism in America, it is shocking to see an author write an op-ed in the Forward accusing day schools of preaching dual loyalty. It is the kind of piece that likely delights anti-Semites from all sides of the spectrum. Whether they hate the Jewish people and/or the Jewish state, they undoubtedly will hold up this op-ed long into the future as the basis for their bigotry.

And yet, the argument is empty, and the piece flawed from the start. Forget the fact that the author doesn’t have the courage to make the case with his or her own name. Forget the fact that the author doesn’t have the decency to name the schools so that they could push back on this scurrilous claim. Forget the fact that the author paints with the broadest brush imaginable, providing literally no credible analysis of the curriculum or extracurricular activities of these schools.

Certainly, many Jewish day schools celebrate the state of Israel and the Jewish connection — historically, religiously and emotionally — to the country. Together with the study of Torah (which the writer oddly argues isn’t taken seriously), the Jewish historical and cultural connection to Israel is the main reason that parents send their children to such schools. But this is not a matter of political loyalty, but a question of personal identity.

They look to these schools to inculcate Jewish values in their children. And celebrating the miracle of the creation of the Jewish state after 2,000 years of yearning to return to Zion is foundational to the teaching of Jewish history and identity. It links the Jewish people of the present to the ancient Jewish people of the past. After millennia of persecution and pogroms, of marginalization and murder, the miracle of the Israel cannot be understated.

At the same time, Jewish schools are completely American and foster patriotism and love of country. This takes many forms — singing the national anthem, studying American history, learning about civics and government, honoring American troops, taking part in American traditions, celebrating our religious freedom and so on.

None of this speaks to dual loyalty. In fact, the vast majority of Americans have never even met any of these students. Despite the fact that some Americans believe in the dual loyalty canard, this seems to reflect an old stereotype rather than any real insight.

It’s worth noting that the dual loyalty charge has plagued the Jewish people through the centuries in many different places and societal settings. Judas, who in the New Testament betrays Jesus, became an archetype for the Jew as untrustworthy and duplicitous. This foundational story has been used to invoke accusations of disloyalty for hundreds of years. This foundational story has been used to invoke accusations of disloyalty for hundreds of years. From the Dreyfus affair in 19th century France to the Farhud in 20th century Iraq to the singular tragedy of the Shoah, dual loyalty has been used to rationalize the irrational hatred of Jews and the most horrific crimes.

Even here in the United States, the disloyalty charge has reared its ugly head. President Richard Nixon infamously spoke of “a Jewish cabal” in his administration who were working against him, a distrust that stemmed from his belief that Jews were “born spies.” Last year, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tweeted that senators promoting legislation against boycotts of Israel “forgot what country they represented.”

And President Trump raised the specter of Jewish disloyalty when he said that “if Jews vote for a Democrat, they are being disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”

Whether intentional or not, all of these charges are rooted in this persistent stereotype.

American Jewish passion for Israel, a deep and natural connection, has nothing to do with these sinister and conspiratorial myths about the Jewish people. In America, public schools maintain a strict separation of church and state. This constitutional freedom is core to the civic architecture of our democracy and enjoyed by people of all religions and persuasions. For those who can afford them, private and parochial schools, whether Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or non-sectarian, offer an alternative that enables students to pursue a course of study based in their religious traditions or beliefs.

In Catholic schools across the U.S., students pray for the Pope and the Bishop. Does this mean they are being taught “dual loyalty” to America and the Vatican? Of course not.

Our Jewish day schools teach our children to love America and to treasure the state of Israel. The two are not mutually exclusive. Celebrating Israel is an important and vital piece of a holistic Jewish education that is entirely consistent with the American experience.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

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