Headlines in English-language newspapers in Israel last week highlighted the crisis that absentee ballots for the US presidential elections had not been received by many American Israelis who had applied for them. Both the Democratic and Republican parties took out large ads encouraging Americans in Israel to vote and giving them contact information where they could direct questions. The US embassy informed American citizens abroad that if their ballots did not arrive in time, their vote could still be counted by casting a ballot at the local US embassy or consulate. I wasn’t worried. I had already received my ballot and voted. Three weeks before election day, I mailed my ballot to the Camden County Clerk’s office, confident it would arrive before the polls closed.
Like most Israelis, I have never missed the opportunity to vote in an election in which I was eligible to vote. However, I can make this claim regarding both US and Israeli elections. Having grown up with the slogan “No taxation without representation” ingrained in me I feel that not only is it my right to vote, but also my obligation. More than that, with the history of Jews in the not-so-distant past unable to vote in many parts of the world, it is my privilege.
Nonetheless, it is a strange feeling to be a dual citizen. I can live in Israel, even serve in its armed forces and vote in the US elections. In every US passport it states, “A dual citizen may be subject to the laws of the other country that considers that person its citizen while in that country’s jurisdiction, including conscription for military service.” It also says, “All US citizens working and residing overseas are required to file and report on their US income.” Just as I vote in US elections, I also file a US tax return every year. Citizenship has its privileges and its obligations.
Not all my expatriate friends feel the same way. A friend recently told me that he doesn’t live in the US anymore so he doesn’t vote. So why do I? Even if the law is clear and I have the legal right to vote, should I? Is it ethical?
The short answer is that, as I often tell my five-year-old, life is not fair.
I file taxes and am subject to US laws so I should be able to vote. However, I have chosen to make my home outside of the United States of America and have voluntarily become the citizen of another country. The question to me is not so much should I vote, but should I be able to retain my US citizenship. US citizens who adopt other foreign nationalities are forced to renounce US citizenship, but Israel, like a handful of other nations, has a special arrangement with the US allowing for dual nationality and I am taking advantage of it.
This year more than ever, with the central issue of the campaign being a war closer to me in Israel than you in the US, it seems that my vote as an international citizen seems justified. However, others effected just as much as me do not have the right to vote in determining an outcome of an election which will have a much more direct bearing on their lives than on mine. As an American, like you, I have family and friends serving in Iraq and I have voted with them in mind just as much as I have voted for who I think is best for the region as a whole, myself and my family included. I also vote with US domestic policies in mind.
Most citizens of the world are affected by the US policymakers. Unlike most citizens of the world, however, I am seen as an American even when I am living abroad. I am affected by the policies of US politicians as an American living abroad which is a unique position. American stereotypes, policies and culture are all directed at me each time I deal with an Israeli. As such I become a target. I am a US representative abroad, a diplomat of sorts who helps to foster and form the opinions of Israelis about Americans, America and American policy.
Having the birthright of being a United States citizen, and being seen both in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of people who meet me as American, I exercise my right to vote. In a world where many people still do not have that privilege, I do not take it for granted in either of my countries. I appreciate my freedoms and take advantage of my rights, proud to be a dual citizen, both an Israeli and an American.