Public Comment

Commentary: Reflections of a New American By Nitzan Goldberger

Tuesday February 21, 2006

I took the oath to become an American citizen this week. Presidents’ Day is a perfect time to take the monumental step of becoming a citizen of this great country. After all, on Monday Americans celebrate the birthday of two men who helped form the America that made it possible for this to happen.  

The ceremony marked the end of a long process of deliberation. I was not always convinced I wanted to be an American citizen. I immigrated to the United States from Israel as a teenager, and over the years I became concerned about the foreign policy decisions the United States was making that affected my family in Israel and the Arab world. Reaching a decision about applying for citizenship was all the more difficult when friends in Israel and Europe began questioning me about pledging my allegiance to a consumerist America that supports the policies of the Bush administration and drives gas-guzzling SUVs.  

After all, the American people had voted for a president and Congress that approved going to war in Iraq, despite the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction and Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were not linked as was suggested by the government. Americans continued to consume large amounts of oil that put more money in the pockets of authoritarian regimes instead of supporting political reform. And America’s financial support to Israel did not come with requirements to halt settlement expansion, a policy pursued by Israeli governments to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians.  

But I soon realized that even behind bad policies were Americans with honorable intentions. For example, Americans chose to invade Iraq in 2003 because they were misinformed, not because they wanted to see Iraqis suffer. Their leaders may have gone to war under the guise of democracy, but the fact is that Americans agreed to it because they truly believe in the principles of democracy and wanted Iraqis to enjoy that universal right.  

America’s unyielding dedication to being a democracy is what allows its citizens to live their lives in freedom. The American dream allows you to work your way out of poverty to a better life. And Americans are gregarious, fun-loving people who pride themselves on the fact that their country is a refuge for foreigners who want to live in a free and democratic country.  

The U.S. exists in part thanks to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays we celebrate this Presidents’ Day. It was Washington who led the revolutionary troops to independence, and who refused to establish a kingdom after his victory. He created a system of checks and balances and set the precedence for a two-term limit for presidents. Abraham Lincoln led America through one of the most difficult periods of America’s history, fought to end slavery and maintain national unity. These men worked hard to make sure that America is a country of the people, by the people and for the people.  

Appreciating America’s principles of freedom, justice and liberty does not mean being naïve about the things America does that fuel criticism. But the experiences I have had with kind, open-minded and passionate Americans have led me to believe that America stands for something powerful. As I looked out over the crowd in the oath ceremony at the United States District Court, I saw men and women wearing saris and head scarves. By coming to the United States, they have been able aspire to rewarding careers, speak freely, practice their religion and recognize their heritage. And for that reason it is an honor to be celebrating my first Presidents’ Day as an American citizen.  


Nitzan Goldberger is a research assistant at the Washington D.C.-based Foundation for Middle East Peace.