American Jews and Israel’s Law of Return
Robert D. Naman
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal dated Friday, December 19, 2008 by Jess Bravin titled “U.S., Fearing Israeli Law, Seeks to Deny Bail to Jew” should be of concern to all Americans of the Jewish faith. The article details the U.S. Justice Department’s reason why Sholom Rubashkin should be denied bail. The article states, “Mr. Rubashkin faces multiple charges related to the alleged hiring of illegal immigrants at a kosher meat packing plant he formerly headed in Postville, Iowa.” Mr. Rubashkin had been notified by the government in May 2008 that he was under investigation, but he was not arrested until October 30, 2008 when he was released on $500,000 bond. The article continues, “Two weeks later, prosecutors filed additional charges of bank fraud, and persuaded a federal magistrate judge in Cedar Rapids to deny bail.”
The prosecutors cited several reasons that Mr. Rubashkin was a flight risk. One of the arguments prosecutors made was that Mr. Rubashkin’s “Jewish heritage” made him “a de facto dual citizen” who could abscond to Israel. “If the defendant were released, he would easily be able to immigrate to Israel under the Israel’s right-to-return law, and would be allowed what essentially is ... as a practical matter, dual citizenship,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. said at a November 19 hearing. “The extradition process from Israel is very difficult, in particular for someone who may be able to gain citizenship,” he added.
While Mr. Rubashkin may indeed be a flight risk for many reasons, acknowledging his Jewish heritage as one, is disturbing on many levels. The term “Jewish heritage” begs the question, who is of Jewish heritage and should all individuals of Jewish heritage be denied bail as a potential flight risk to Israel because of Israel’s right of return law? I am an American citizen of the Jewish faith. I can no more pledge my allegiance to two countries than I can pray to two gods. The watch word of the Jewish religion, The Shemah, states “Hear 0 Israel, the lord our god, the lord is one.” I am one with my god and the United States of America.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts announced in 1997 and 2003 respectively that they were of Jewish heritage. Ms. Albright’s parents and Senator Kerry’s grandparents were Jews of Czech origin (see “A Jewish Czech in John Kerry’s Court” by Jennifer Anne Perez, Reform Judaism Magazine, Fall 2003, vol. 32, no. 1). If federal indictments were brought against Ms. Albright and Senator Kerry, would they then be considered flight risks based on their Jewish heritage? Indeed, how many millions of Americans might be of Jewish heritage, and are we as a nation going to initiate a federal registry to determine who is of Jewish heritage?
Rights As Americans
The idea that a foreign country can determine any American’s citizenship is disconcerting and against our rights as American citizens. Since 1654, when the first Jews arrived on the shores of New Amsterdam, America has been the destination of Jews seeking freedom from the bondage of discrimination. From the time that Abraham Levy and Phillip Russell stood their watch at Valley Forge through today, American Jews have fought and died to defend the United States of America and the rights and privileges conferred upon all Americans regardless of religion, race, or creed. Unlike past times, when Jews were not considered trustworthy to fight for their country, it has always been a privilege and an honor for American Jews to serve the United States of America.
The kind of thinking that categorizes all Jews as a monolith is distasteful and has been proven wrong throughout history. In World War I, Jewish officers and soldiers fought against each other in both the German and the allied armies. They fought for their respective countries, not as Jews, but as citizens of their individual nations. Nor do all American Jews have the same political beliefs.
No American court should honor Israel’s Law of Return or the laws of any other nation or state regarding this issue. American courts should enforce only the Constitution of the United States of America by which all Americans derive their rights and freedoms. To do anything else would be an injustice to all Americans throughout our history who have sacrificed their lives for this great nation.
Many people may say the Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. was simply throwing the kitchen sink at Mr. Rubashkin in order to deny him bail. Perhaps so. I say his argument to deny bail to Mr. Rubashkin based on his Jewish heritage and the Israeli Law of Return is dangerous if not discriminatory. If this argument is to be upheld on appeal, it will set a precedent that will incrementally infringe on the rights of those of Jewish heritage. Americans of the Jewish faith, indeed all Americans, must be vigilant to this type of thinking and fight it on all fronts.
The National Director of the Anti-Defamation League submitted a letter in support of the objection to the idea that Americans of Jewish faith or “heritage” were, in some way, “flight risks” because of Israel’s Law of Return.
In his letter to the Attorney General of December 24, 2008, he declared: “It is unconstitutional to argue in this — and in future cases — that Jewish defendants are to be held to a different standard of detention than non-Jewish defendants. Indeed, this has wider implications than just for Jews.”
Also in furtherance to this matter the Council submitted to the Wall Street Journal the following Letter to the Editor dated December 19, 2008:
“While there may be much about this case that one could disagree with the defendant’s attorney on, his argument regarding the fallacy of the Justice Department’s position relative to the flight risk of loyal Americans of the Jewish faith is not one of them. The overwhelming majority of Americans of the Jewish faith certainly do not consider themselves citizens of Israel. The article states that ‘prosecutors cited several reasons that Mr. Rubashkin, 49 years old, is a flight risk,’ and if so then the matter should be determined based on those facts that would pertain to such a judgment for any American citizen charged with a crime, and not on some broad generalizations and stereotypes as apparently stated by the prosecutors. If the U.S. government has an issue about the positions of a foreign nation regarding its citizenship requirements and extradition policies then those matters should be taken up with that government and not portrayed as an issue of fidelity of faithful American citizens. This is particularly true in this case whereby Israel is the recipient of major U.S. funding and support, and should be held accountable for its actions. The vast majority of Americans of the Jewish faith, like members of all faith communities in our country, is comprised of law abiding, loyal, citizens of the United States and should be considered as such by their government, unless specifically and individually proven by due process to the contrary.”
Robert Naman, Secretary
American Council for Judaism
The Council invites your comments to ACJSLN@aol.com or by postal mail to P.O. Box 2836, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32004-2836.