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Dual Loyalty Accusations Arise from the Ben Zygier Case

February 14, 2013 – 7:25 pm149 Comments
israeli australian passports

Image taken from an “Australians For Palestine” scare piece titled “Dual loyalty is compromising our national interest”.

By Yaron Gottlieb
The revelations this week about Prisoner X on the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program has lead me to reflect about elements of my life and my relationship with Israel.

I am a dual citizen after having made Aliya on Boxing Day 2006 (the day of Warnie’s 700th), but I currently live in Australia. This is entirely due to meeting my wife in Australia and her unwillingness to move to Israel.

However, I have complete loyalty to both of my countries, although I told my Israeli friends that I would never support an Israeli sporting team. According to the Tebbit Test, this would make me significantly more Aussie than Israeli.

However, I am loyal to both of my countries and would never use my privileged position in one to undermine the other. Therefore I would not allow access to my Australian passport and nor should any any dual citizen. And if the Australian government wanted access to my Israeli documents I would turn them down as well (although I am not sure what possible advantage an Israeli passport could confer).

The Prisoner X story has thrown these issues into stark relief. It would seem an Australian using his Australian passport to the advantage of a foreign power eventually fell foul of his masters and was locked up until his untimely death. How should we, left here in Australia, respond philosophically to this horrible series of events? Do we have dual loyalties?

The phenomenon of Australians serving in a foreign army has long existed. Jews are not unique among dual citizens in this regard. Australians with a background from the former Yugoslavia, for example, fought in the Balkan wars in the 1990s. This is not a phenomenon that can be regulated by the ethnic communities in Australia themselves. Rather, it is up to the Australian government to legislate on this issue and to ban Australian citizens from serving in foreign militaries should it feel that dual loyalties are an issue.

I personally believe it is possible to serve in a foreign army without compromising loyalty to Australia, as long as the military activity does not in any way compromise Australia’s security. But Australian Jews cannot have it both ways. If we as a community feel uncomfortable with, for example, a Jordanian-Australian fighting on behalf of the Jordanian government to the extent that we would want such service banned, we cannot expect service to Israel to avoid criticism.

This story of espionage and intrigue is unusual only in that Israel got caught. In the world of cloak and daggers there are no doubt constant efforts to get a leg up on other countries, and if it involves recruiting a dual citizen then it will be done.

However, Israel has a decision to make, and it comes with a tremendous responsibility. It must decide: is it like every other country or is one of its missions as a state to protect the Jews around the world?

If it is just another state, then it has not done anything worse than any other state in their pursuit of intelligence. But because of this action – and the resulting suspicion all Australian Jews will now likely face in many quarters – the Jews in Australia are a little less safe. Therefore, Israel has failed in its duty of care to protect all Jews – including those living outside of Israel – if that’s what it claims is one of its reasons for being.

Many Australians following this story will now be wondering about every Australian Jew and where our loyalties really lie: what proportion of Australian Jews sacrifice their passports to the Israeli government if asked?

I am not suggesting that Israel should be held up to a moral code of a state in peace. Israel’s position in the Middle East means that it exists in a particularly tough neighbourhood and it is technically at war with a number of countries in the region. Under such circumstances, sometimes certain actions must be taken that can be easy to criticise from the safety of our Australian armchairs.

But this does not mean that Israel can receive a blank cheque to do whatever it wants. I want the country of my second citizenship to be a moral and upright country, and if the accusations currently levelled against it with regards to Prisoner X are true, criticism is richly deserved.

The murky story of Prisoner X is not just a story about one man. It is also a story about Jewish Australian loyalty and our ability to distinguish between right and wrong. National loyalty is often presented as a zero-sum phenomenon. But this does not need to be the case. I live with two passports and this creates no challenges to the essence of my being. I am Israeli and I am Australian, and like so many others in this country who are dual citizens, I am absolutely loyal to both.

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