A brouhaha erupted when Diane Rehm, of National Public Radio, confronted Bernie Sanders during an interview with an allegation that’s been making the rounds on the Internet for years: “Now, you’re a dual citizen of Israel,” she averred. Startled, he replied:
“Well, no I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I’m an American. I don’t know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. I’m an American citizen, period."
He claimed to be “offended” by Rehm’s assertion, although I don’t know why anybody would be: after all, what’s wrong with being a dual citizen of Israel, or of any other country?
Ms. Rehm issued an official apology, in which she regretted not posing a question rather than making an assertion – and that underscores the problem with the whole issue of public officials holding dual citizenship: they aren’t required to disclose it. Rehm says she brought it up in the first place because of a Facebook comment, which referenced a list of alleged dual US-Israeli citizens in Congress. None of these lists, however, are sourced, a fact the research-challenged Rehm failed to notice. It’s virtually impossible to source such information, however, unless members of Congress are forthcoming with it – which they aren’t.
So why is this even an issue? Writing in The Hill, L. Michael Hager,of the International Development Law Organization, had a good answer:
“Anyone can become a dual citizen, even members of Congress, high court judges and top officials of the executive branch. There’s no law or regulation against it. Nor are they required to disclose such dual citizenship.
“So what’s the problem?
“For most dual citizens, having the benefits of citizenship in two countries (including expedited immigration) outweigh the costs (which may include tax obligations to both countries).
“Yet dual citizenship in the United States poses a hitherto unappreciated issue for policy-level members of the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The divided national loyalties of dual citizens can create real or apparent conflicts of interest when such legislators, judges or senior officials make or speak out on policies that relate to their second country.
“The potential damage to our democracy is the greater when such potential conflicts of interest are concealed in undisclosed dual citizenship.
“Current entries on the Internet contain a number of undocumented assertions as to which members of Congress and senior officers are dual citizens. Without reliable data, however, Americans can only speculate on which senators and representatives may have divided national loyalties.
“The lack of transparency regarding citizenship erodes trust in government, raising credibility doubts where there should be none, and allowing some apparent conflicts of interest to continue undetected.”
So what’s the solution? Hager suggests 1) Dual citizens in Congress should recuse themselves from voting on issues where a conflict of interest might arise, e.g. a dual citizen of, say, Liberia, should not be voting on whether to increase aid to that country. And 2) The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress ought to publish this information, along with all the other facts they routinely gather – party affiliation, age, ethnicity, gender, etc. – about every member of each new Congress.
The Rehm-Sanders controversy was a good opportunity for Israel’s American amen corner to make the usual disingenuous claims about the supposedly rising tide of anti-Semitism, claiming Israel was once again being unfairly singled out for special attention and that to even raise the question amounted to peddling The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the public square. The irony is that even as the Rehm controversy was breaking another story was breaking: Israel’s spying on the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. That very morning the Wall Street Journal was reporting that the Israelis had infiltrated some very sophisticated malware – a virus – into the computers at the hotels where the negotiations were taking place:
“[T]he virus was packed with more than 100 discrete ‘modules’ that would have enabled the attackers to commandeer infected computers.
“One module was designed to compress video feeds, possibly from hotel surveillance cameras. Other modules targeted communications, from phones to Wi-Fi networks. The attackers would know who was connected to the infected systems, allowing them to eavesdrop on conversations and steal electronic files.
“The virus could also enable them to operate two-way microphones in hotel elevators, computers and alarm systems. In addition, the hackers appeared to penetrate front-desk computers. That could have allowed them to figure out the room numbers of specific delegation members.”
All very James Bond, but then again the Israelis are a formidable foe and they’re deadly serious when it comes to penetrating the secrets of their “friends” as well as their enemies. What’s in question, however, is who’s a friend and who’s an enemy: in their eyes, it’s no longer very clear.
Increasingly isolated internationally, as well as increasingly hostile to the United States – Israeli bigwigs openly booed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in Jerusalem the other day – Israel’s political class (and Israeli society in general) have taken a very sharp rightward turn. A virulent form of ultra-nationalism dominates Israeli politics these days, and anti-Americanism is on the rise. After all, these are a people who named a public square in Jerusalem – overlooked by the American consulate – after Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy imprisoned for life in the United States for stealing US secrets.
And that calculated insult occurred in 2007, right before then President George W. Bush – surely one of the most pro-Israel presidents in American history – was scheduled to visit. Since then, the tension between Washington and Tel Aviv has increased a hundred-fold.
So Israel isn’t being picked on for no good reason. Indeed, the Israelis have targeted the US and its allies, not only accusing them of “appeasing” Iran but also penetrating their security and industrial systems. According to Wired, the reach of the Israeli super-virus extended worldwide, extending to:
“[A]n international gathering for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. The focus in this case may have been on the scores of VIPs who attended the event, including presidents and prime ministers….
“In addition to all of these targets, Symantec uncovered victims in the UK, Sweden, Hong Kong and India. Notably, it found telecom victims in Europe and Africa, an electronics firm in South East Asia, and multiple infections in the US, including one organization where developers working on mobile platforms were infected. Some of the infections dated back to 2013 … “
America’s “special relationship” with Israel has soured for a two reasons: 1) Our security interests, once aligned during the cold war era, have diverged, and 2) The political environment in Israel has undergone a radical transformation.
Furthermore, none of this was avoidable. Although the Israel lobby would like us to forget it, the United States and the Jewish state are separate countries, with inevitably disparate interests. And those interests underwent a significant shift with the end of the cold war and the beginning of the “age of terrorism,” as it might be termed. It became necessary for Washington to forge a closer relationship with Middle Eastern states other than Israel, i.e. Israel’s traditional adversaries. We see this playing out now as Iran takes on ISIS and a Washington-Tehran rapprochement is in the works.
Inside Israel, another shift was taking place: the inherent logic of that settler colony’s origins was pushing it on a course that didn’t allow for any compromise with its indigenous Arab population. Reduced to helotry, and radicalized by their predicament, the Arabs revolted – and the subsequent Israeli backlash changed the political landscape forever.
Aggressive Israeli spying on – and in – the US is not a “conspiracy theory,” it’s a reality, and the danger it poses is heightened by the presence of a powerful lobby that seeks to deny and/or excuse that aggression at every turn. No responsible American observer can look on it with indifference, and measures must be taken to counteract it, just as we would seek to obstruct similar intrusions by, say, China or Russia.
As for the issue of dual citizenship, particularly involving federal officials and specifically members of Congress, the direct relation of this matter to our national security is underscored by the case of Jane Harman. While serving in Congress, Harman was caught out by the National Security Agency having a conversation with an Israeli official in which she agreed to intercede on behalf of two AIPAC lobbyists who had been brought up on espionage charges. Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two longtime members of the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, had been accused of procuring sensitive information purloined from the Pentagon on Israel’s behalf.
Harman was angling, at the time, to chair the House Intelligence Committee, and the New York Times reported that “One official who has seen transcripts of several wiretapped calls said she appeared to agree to intercede in exchange for help in persuading party leaders to give her the powerful post.” Those transcripts, according to the official, revealed that the Israeli caller “promised her that a wealthy California donor – the media mogul Haim Saban – would threaten to withhold campaign contributions to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was expected to become House speaker after the 2006 election, if she did not select Ms. Harman for the intelligence post.”
Rather than run for reelection under this cloud, Harman retired from Congress.
Israel represents a danger to the national security of this country: this is an incontrovertible fact, and no amount of “anti-Semitism”-baiting is going to obscure it. And that danger is growing, as the story of the Israeli spy-virus makes all too clear.
In this context, dual US-Israeli citizenship among federal employees – including members of Congress – is a legitimate concern, and not only for law enforcement but also for voters. Just as a candidate for federal office must reveal the sources of their campaign funds, so they ought to be required to disclose their allegiance to a foreign government – no matter what country is involved.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.