This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a U.S. citizen may have stamped in his passport, “Jerusalem, Israel,” as his place of birth.
It’s a tricky issue for the U.S. government, which, since the birth of Israel in 1948, has never formally recognized the city as belonging to any country, considering that a question to be answered through Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
But Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky are forcing the question now. Dual citizens of the United States and Israel, the Zivotofskys have tried to have “Jerusalem, Israel” listed as their son’s place of birth on his passport, but the State Department has refused, citing the long-standing policy.
The couple has sued and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
We understand the diplomatic minefield this poses for the Obama administration, and the administrations that follow it. The president claims the authority to set foreign policy, which a court ruling for the Zivotofskys would compromise. Previous administrations — Republican and Democrat — have taken the same position.
But pro-Israel members of Congress, who object to the policy, have sought legislative action to force U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including a 2002 act urging the president to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and requiring the State Department to allow American citizens born in Jerusalem to list it as their city of birth on passport documents.
So this is not only a question of justice for individual Americans who were born in Jerusalem, but a larger, politically loaded question of who controls this country’s foreign policy, the president or the Congress?
Well, since the president is supposed to consult Congress, we say “both” to the latter question, which is why we say the Zivotofskys should prevail.
But we have another, less legalistic reason to pull for the Zivotofskys: The
Palestinian Authority is circumventing the peace process by going to the United Nations seeking statehood recognition through admission as a full member — something the United States firmly opposes. P.A. leaders see this as a way to pressure Israel to make concessions it wants before returning to the bargaining table.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, if only for purpose of passports, would deflate the P.A.’s effort. It may have lined up dozens of Third World nations to back its U.N. bid, which is sure to die in the Security Council, but what is that effort compared to recognition by the largest developed nation in the world of Israel’s sovereignty over the City of David.
Game, set, match.
Of course, political considerations have no place when the Supreme Court deliberates (in theory anyway), but what an interesting biproduct of this case.
So here’s hoping the Zivotofskys win their challenge. Justice would be done — in more ways than one.