Q&A on the News

Q: I read that two Americans were killed while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. I always thought that a person lost U.S. citizenship if they served in the armed forces of a foreign power or in the service of a country at war with the U.S. I know exceptions were granted for the Flying Tigers and those who served in the RAF during World War II. Did those killed while serving in the IDF lose their U.S. citizenship?

—Don Haller, Douglasville

A: Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli, who died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this past weekend, had dual citizenship with the U.S. and Israel. It's legal for U.S. citizens to serve in foreign military forces and they usually will not lose their citizenship if they join those forces, including the IDF and French Foreign Legion, the U.S. State Department told the Washington Post.

The State Department encourages U.S. citizens to avoid serving in a foreign military, if possible, but sometimes service is compulsory, such as in Israel. “Military service by U.S. nationals may cause problems in the conduct of our foreign relations since such service may involve U.S. nationals in hostilities against countries with which we are at peace,” State Department officials told the paper.

However, U.S. citizens in “voluntary” military service of a “state engaged in hostilities against the United States could be viewed as indicative of an intention to relinquish U.S. nationality.” Steinberg, 24, was from Southern California and Carmeli, 21, grew up in Texas, but his parents were from Israel, and he finished high school there.

Andy Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).