Why Are There Israeli- But Not Mexican-American Dual Nationals?


America is the home of many faiths and many nationalities. Recently, we have seen that a U.S. businessman can be “called home” to serve as the prime minister of Serbia. While the unusual appointment of Milan Panic, some 20 years after he emigrated to California to found a multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical company, drew some media attention, the press in general ignores the large number of Americans who vote in Israeli elections, fight in Israeli wars and whose first allegiance belongs not to the U.S. but to the Jewish state.

While many immigrants who become Americans express nostalgia and, in most instances, a love for the old country, they are not torn as to their first allegiance or loyalty. Nor, before the creation of Israel, were many Jewish immigrants to North America. Zionism, however, taught them that regardless of where they were born, or where they lived, they had an allegiance to a Jewish state.

American-born Jonathan Jay Pollard, who perhaps stole more secrets from the U.S. than has any other spy in American history, said he felt compelled to put the “interests of my state” ahead of his own. Although as a U.S. Navy counter-intelligence specialist he had a top-secret security clearance, by “my state” he meant the state of Israel.

Literally tens of thousands of Americans still holding U.S. passports admit they feel a primary allegiance to the state of Israel. In many instances, these Americans vote in Israeli elections, wear Israeli uniforms and fight in Israeli wars. Many are actively engaged both in the confiscation of Palestinian lands and in the Israeli political system. Three examples come to mind:

One is Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded the militant Jewish Defense League in the U.S. in the 1960s, then emigrated to Israel where, eventually, he was elected to the Knesset. Until he was shot and killed at one of his U.S. fund-raising rallies in 1990, the Brooklyn-born rabbi shuttled between Tel Aviv and New York, where he recruited militant American Jews for his activities in Israel against Palestinians.

Another Jewish American, James Mahon from Alexandria, Virginia, reportedly was on a secret mission to kill PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat when he was shot in 1980 by an unknown assailant. When he was shot, Mahon held an American M-16 in his hand and a U.S. passport in his pocket.

Then there was Alan Harry Goodman, an American Jew who left his home in Baltimore, Maryland, flew to Israel and served in the Israeli army. Then, on April 11, 1982, armed with an Uzi submachine gun, he walked, alone, to Al-Aqsa, Jerusalem’s most holy Islamic shrine, where he opened fire, killing two Palestinians and wounding others. Both the U.S. and Israeli governments played down the incident, as did the media.

The examples of Kahane, Mahon and Goodman raise the question of when a U.S. citizen ceases to be, or should cease to be, a U.S. citizen. U.S. Law at one time clearly stated that an American citizen owed first allegiance to the United States. A U.S. citizen could not fight in a foreign army or hold high office in a foreign country without risking expatriation.

The 1940 Nationality Act

Section 401 (e) of the 1940 Nationality Act provides that a U.S. citizen, whether by birth or naturalization, “shall lose his [U.S.] nationality by…voting in a political election in a foreign state.”

This law was tested many times. In 1958, for instance, an American citizen named Perez voted in a Mexican election. The case went to the Supreme Court, where the majority opinion held that Perez must lose his American nationality. The court said Congress could provide for expatriation as a reasonable way of preventing embarrassment to the United States in its foreign relations.

Then came the case in 1967 of an American Jew, Beys Afroyim. As a result of his case, U.S. Law changed drastically. Afroyim, born in Poland in 1895, emigrated to America in 1912, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1926. In 1950, aged 55, he emigrated to Israel and became an Israeli citizen. In 1951 Afroyim voted in an Israeli Knesset election and in five political elections that followed.

After living in Israel for a decade, Afroyim wished to return to New York. In 1960, he asked the U.S. Consulate in Haifa for an American passport. The Department of State refused the application, invoking section 401 (e) of the Nationality Act-the same ruling that had stripped the American citizen named Perez of his U.S. citizenship.

Attorneys acting for Afroyim took his case to a Washington, DC District Court, which upheld the law. His attorneys appealed to the Court of Appeals. This court also upheld the law. The attorneys for Afroyim then moved the case on to the Supreme Court. Here, with Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Lyndon Johnson’s former attorney and one of the most powerful Jewish Americans, casting the swing vote, the court voted five to four in favor of Afroyim. The court held that the U.S. government had no right to “rob” Afroyim of his citizenship.

Zionism taught allegiance to a Jewish state.

The court, reversing its previous judgment as regards the Mexican American, ruled that Afroyim had not shown “intent” to lose citizenship by voting in Israeli elections.

Did Golda Meir relinquish her U.S. passport at some point in her evolution from Milwaukee schoolteacher to prime minister of Israel? U.S. State Department officials said they did not know.

“State Department officials should know,” former INS Commissioner Leonel Castillo told me. “If you look at it strictly, she should have relinquished her passport. “

Castillo added that while Washington claims it has a “good neighbor” policy with Mexico, the U.S. does not permit Mexicans to hold dual nationality. “We make them become either U.S. or Mexican-you can’t be both,” he said, adding: “The U.S., in its special relationship with Israel, has become very sympathetic to allowing Israelis and Americans to retain two nationalities and allowing U.S. citizens to hold public office in Israel.”

Asked if he knew of any other countries with so many dual citizens, Castillo said, “No, I don’t know any. This U.S.-Israel relationship is a special situation.”

He also viewed it as dangerous: “It is unknown to what extent the special relationship that allows Americans to vote in Israeli elections, fight in Israeli wars and hold Israeli public office might be carried.”

Grace Halsell is a Washington, DC-based writer and author of Journey to Jerusalem and Prophecy and Politics.

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