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Watch: Ronald Reagan Had His Own Dual Loyalty Controversy with American Jews in Congress

President Donald Trump was under fire this week for repeatedly deploying the anti-Semitic “dual loyalty” trope against about 80 percent of American Jews, but in one of many such similarities, former President Ronald Reagan faced a similar controversy just months into his administration.

During an October 1, 1981 press conference, Reagan brought up the proposed sale of spy planes to Saudi Arabia, which the government of Israel — as well as many members of Congress — opposed.

“This morning Congress was notified of our intention to sell AWACS aircraft and F-15 enhancement items to Saudi Arabia,” Reagan said, adding that the sale “poses no threat to Israel, now or in the future,” and that “it serves Israel’s long-range interests.”

“As President, it’s my duty to define and defend our broad national security objectives,” Reagan continued. “The Congress, of course, plays an important role in this process. And while we must always take into account the vital interests of our allies, American security interests must remain our internal responsibility.”

“It is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy,” Reagan said — which is the line that wound up generating controversy — and concluded by saying “An objective assessment of U.S. national interest must favor the proposed sale. And I say this as one who holds strongly the view that both a secure state of Israel and a stable Mideast peace are essential to our national interests.”

Later in the same press conference, Reagan said that “other countries must not get a perception that we are being unduly influenced one way or the other with regard to foreign policy.”

The remark was denounced by many American Jewish leaders. Rabbi Joseph Sternstein, then president of the American Zionist Federation, said that “there is a disturbing implication in your remarks that American citizens cannot speak up for what they consider to be the best interests of our country. Are you implying, by your remarks, that a large number of Senators who oppose the Saudi arms package are being directed by a ‘foreign power’ and are placing their government’s interests in a subsidiary position?”

And according to multiple reports, Reagan and his aides privately pressured members of Congress to “choose Begin or Reagan,” and according to one report, “Reagan met with Jewish senators one on one and threatened to unleash dual-loyalty charges if they voted against him.”

Weeks later, the Senate approved the sale by a 52-48 margin.

Listen Reagan’s remarks above, via Ronald Reagan On The Air and The Reagan Presidential Library.

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