During Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, Mehmet Oz first insisted that he would remain a dual U.S.-Turkish citizen while serving in the Senate. To avoid any conflict of interest he said he would simply recuse himself from any foreign policy issues with any connection to Turkey. Then after intense criticism he agreed that should he be elected to the Senate he would finally renounce his Turkish citizenship.
That appeared to partly settle the issue. It actually got less attention that the fact that Oz isn’t even a resident of Pennsylvania. He lives across the state line in New Jersey. But through the campaign there has also been an oft-repeated suggestion that raising this issue — Oz’s dual citizenship — amounts to a form of prejudice or Islamophobia. In fact, an early May ABC News report claimed that “Oz is not the first high-profile candidate to face accusations of a so-called ‘dual loyalty,’ a claim reminiscent of attacks against Catholics, Jews and members of other religious and ethnic groups in previous generations.”
This claim by ABC is so absurd that I have to imagine the reporters just casually heard this accusation — perhaps from Oz’s own campaign — and simply had no grasp of the history involved. In fact, this is a totally legit issue. No one should be shamed out of raising it. “Dual loyalty” smears are cases in which citizens or immigrants of a particular ethnic or religious group — usually but by no means always Jews — are deemed unable to be fully loyal to the United States because of their affinity or loyalty to states or members of their group abroad. So a Jew is suspect because of supposed loyalties to Israel or Jews abroad. A Muslim is held to be more loyal to the foreign Muslims or the global Muslim community than the U.S. Mostly in an earlier era Catholics were deemed deficient because they would be loyal to the Bishop of Rome.
This isn’t a “smear” about having a dual loyalty. Holding two citizenships is literally having a dual loyalty. You swear an allegiance to two separate states.
Most discussions of this issue have focused on whether Oz would represent some sort of national security threat because of his foreign citizenship, especially since senators have to view all sorts of secret or classified material to do their job. Turkey isn’t Russia. But it’s also not Canada. Oz says he’s retained his citizenship because it helps him care for his elderly mother who lives in Turkey. He owns substantial real estate holdings in Turkey. He also has a lucrative endorsement deal with the Turkish national airline which he likely couldn’t hold without the sufferance of Turkish President Erdogan.
These points would each raise some concerns to me. There is a fair amount of evidence that his relationship with the Turkish government runs pretty deep. (It is worth noting that foreign nationals are always required to renounce foreign allegiances when they take significant positions of trust within the U.S. government.) The security threat issue is one only an investigation could properly resolve. Indeed, to me it’s mostly beside the point.
Many people today have what we might call a “post-national” view of citizenship. A person holds dual citizenship because they have a particular affinity for another country. Or perhaps a married couple comes from different countries and dual citizenship makes travel and legal issues simpler. I know more than a few people who have taken on foreign citizenships they had access to by birthright because they, frankly, want another option as things grow more uncertain in the U.S. They now hold Irish or German citizenships, to name just a couple examples. For many people it’s just a passport, an administrative convenience.
I view citizenship as inherently unitary, a point I’ve written about going back twenty years. Common and unitary citizenship is the anchor of our equality as Americans. But U.S. case law sees it differently. So it is what it is. I should note that I have family members who at least technically hold dual citizenships, though largely as a matter of simply not having gotten around to renouncing an old citizenship. All of that is fine. I’m not judging anyone who holds two passports.
But it seems to me that if you’re putting yourself forward to represent the United States or serving in the national legislature that it is certainly not too much to ask that you be all in with the United States, 100%, not hedging your bets or having U.S. citizenship as one of a portfolio of citizenships. I was frankly stunned to find out that Oz voted in a Turkish election as recently as 2018. This after claiming he has no involvement whatsoever in the country’s politics. Given his willingness to chameleonize all his old political views to gain political power through Trumpism, the guy’s principles and honesty leave a bunch to be desired. I strongly suspect that his ties to and involvement with the Turkish government run deeper than he lets on. The fact that he’s voted in Turkish elections only came out because someone dug up an old Facebook post showing him casting a vote.
As a technical matter, if Oz agrees to renounce his Turkish citizenship prior to being sworn into office that’s sufficient. But the fact that he’s apparently only willing to become a full time member of the club without any caveats if he’s actually elected to the Senate suggests someone who is actually pretty seriously committed to maintaining his foreign citizenship. That is a totally, totally legitimate political issue.