Giving Up Citizenship In One Country I Love For Another

Giving Up Citizenship In One Country I Love For Another

Editor’s Note: This essay, in the form of a letter, was prompted by the author’s decision to give up his U.S. citizenship so that he could take up a key diplomatic post for Israel in Washington.

Because I love America, it is with hesitant hands and a heavy heart that I am writing these words. I never expected to request revocation of my citizenship, and, while I certainly understand the circumstances requiring me to do so, it is important for me to share with you why I have decided to take this step.

The United States has a perfectly sensible law that does not allow for diplomats from foreign countries serving in the U.S. to hold U.S. citizenship. The fact that this is eminently reasonable doesn’t make this any less difficult.

Much of who I am is based on my childhood in the U.S.; as a fourth-generation American growing up in quintessential “small-town America,” the values inculcated in me in school and at home were American. Many of those values are shared by Israel, which I believe to be the destined homeland for Jewish people of all nations. As Israel builds its place among the nations, it has much to learn not only from its Jewish and biblical roots, but also from the ideological foundations that built the United States of America, the greatest country of the past 240 years.

Every week in synagogue, Jews around the world read a portion of the Bible. We learn from the commandments that the Jewish nation left Egypt not simply to survive, but rather with a greater purpose of building a just and moral society. Now, some 3,300 years after the revelation at Sinai and 63 years after the establishment of the State of Israel — two of the most momentous occasions in Jewish history — the guidance from Sinai is all the more relevant. In this spirit, a very small piece of what Israel needs to do is to continually strengthen its economic foundations. Like other dimensions required in building the State of Israel, I consider this to be my generation’s holy work; therefore, when I was asked by Israel’s finance minister to serve as the country’s minister of economic affairs to Washington, the decision to accept was easy. But that doesn’t make my decision in relinquishing my U.S. citizenship any less painful.

I will never forget the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, which took place roughly two miles from the classroom where I was beginning my graduate school studies. At the time, there was significant uncertainty as to how the United States would react. A very close, well-educated friend of mine told me that day — as we walked uptown amid the rubble in one of the greatest cities on earth — that America didn’t have the stomach to deal with the terrorists the way they needed to be dealt with. He said that America had gotten too complacent. Fortunately my friend was wrong. President Bush announced to the world that America would not rest until the people responsible would be dealt with — a promise eventually fulfilled by President Obama.

When I heard President Bush’s pledge that day I was grateful he understood that the price of liberty is, indeed, eternal vigilance. I thought of that moment five years later — when my professional career in the world of management consulting took me to one of the world’s leading investment banks. I was commuting from my home in a Jerusalem suburb to London’s Canary Wharf each week to work on what the bank defined as its No. 1 strategic objective for that year. Three months into the six-month project, I was drafted by my reserve unit for the Second Lebanese War. While many of my international colleagues and clients thought I had lost my mind, the decision for me to leave that project to go assist in destroying terrorist cells in Lebanese villages was an easy one. It was exceptionally frightening, yet easy. For I grew up in America, where I was taught that personal commitments must be made to ensure a land of the free and a home of the brave.

One can love two countries just as one loves two parents. Today, I voluntarily give up my citizenship, but I do not give up my values; indeed, in giving up my citizenship to help further the economic development and strength of Israel in a diplomatic role, I believe I am living those values I was educated to cherish. During my 10 years of schooling in wonderful upstate New York, I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States each day. And today, more than ever and despite the renunciation of my citizenship, I remain committed to the Republic for which it stands.

God bless America, land that I love. 

Eli Groner serves as Israel’s minister of economic affairs to Washington.

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