Nick Merkin

A strategic failure and unethical silence

The US ignored last week's terror attack that injured my son - so much for all the 'advantages and blessings' accruing to American citizens
Israeli security forces work at the site of a Palestinian car-ramming and stabbing attack at a bus stop, in Ra'anana, January 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli security forces work at the site of a Palestinian car-ramming and stabbing attack at a bus stop, in Ra'anana, January 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

My son was one of the injured in Monday’s terror attack in Ra’anana, Israel. He and several schoolmates were waiting after school for a bus home when the terrorists struck, injuring six children along with him. There were also several adults wounded and one killed. Though stopping short of claiming responsibility, Hamas praised the attack.

My son will be okay, at least physically. We were released from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon and, although he is pretty banged up and in some pain, he is in good spirits. Another of his schoolmates was more seriously injured and our prayers join those of thousands of others worldwide in praying for his recovery.

Several of the wounded — I believe at least five — along with my son, are American citizens.

Both formally and informally, Israel’s response has been exceptional. From the moment we reached the emergency room, we were met by national and local officials, including social workers, law enforcement and military personnel, medical experts, clergy, school faculty and countless others. Even Ra’anana’s mayor visited. Aside from the official response, hundreds of family, friends, and community members have been there for us. We are also just learning more about the lifesaving heroics of civilians and first responders at the scene of the attack.

In contrast to this, the American response has been absolute silence. Not as much as an acknowledgement from a US official, an email, or a phone call recognizing that several American children were the victims of a brutal terrorist attack. This is despite the fact that I contacted the US embassy in Israel within a day of the attack to report what had happened.

I realize that in the context of the war that has dominated our lives in Israel since October 7th, this is a small matter. Still, I am bothered.

In 1924, in a case called Cook v. Tait, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of “citizen-based” taxation on non-resident US citizens. [Cook v. Tait, 265 U.S. 47 (1924)]

In non-lawyer speak, this means that, if you are a US citizen, the IRS can (and does) make you file a US tax return every year, even if you did not earn a dollar of US-sourced income that year, you do not own any property in the US, and did not visit the country. To my knowledge, the US and Eritrea are the only countries in the world that demand this of non-resident citizens.

Despite the inconvenience and expense, I was always somewhat proud of the US Supreme Court’s reasoning because I believed that the US was “different.” To quote the Cook opinion, the US was unlike any other country because:

[The US] government, by its very nature, benefits the citizen and his property wherever found, and that opposition to it [i.e., non-resident taxation] holds on to citizenship while it ‘belittles and destroys its advantages and blessings’ . . . . ” [Id. at 56]

In other words, according to the Supreme Court’s decision, having US citizenship was worth shouldering the obligation and financial burden of filing a US tax return every year, even if you were no longer a resident, because US citizenship is a lifelong privilege. A privilege that came with “advantages and blessings.” Presumably, that meant that the US would stand by you if you were, for example, assaulted by terrorists.

I once believed this.

The US government’s failure to publicly acknowledge the attack, much less reach out to its American victims or investigate the perpetrators is not only ethically outrageous, but completely undermines the Cook ruling.

Moreover, I would submit that, because of this policy of passivity, the world is now a much more dangerous place for all Americans, especially those living or visiting abroad. Our enemies now know that they can attack Americans in foreign countries with impunity and the US will not so much as express indignation, much less act.

As an American, I am disappointed. I am also a little bit worried given the nature of the world in which we are raising our children. And, as a proponent of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and a supporter of the US’s involvement in it, I am even more puzzled by the US inaction, which I submit makes peace between Israelis and Palestinians ever more remote.

Without stopping terror by Hamas and its allies, peace in this region is impossible. If the US is serious about a two-state solution it needs to throw its considerable resources into thwarting terror and investigating its causes – especially when perpetrated against American citizens. The US government’s silence, likely in service of a more “balanced” approach only emboldens those who seek to end any chance of coexistence in the Middle East.

President Biden, you have resources available and a political and moral rationale to use them for the benefit of the US and its allies. Continued inaction in this case and in others is an ongoing strategic and ethical mistake.

About the Author
Nick Merkin is an Israeli-American living in Raanana, Israel with his family. He is the CEO of Compliagent, an attorney, and a Lecturer in Law at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law.
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