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For young Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, the argument over Jerusalem being listed as his place of birth on his passport has been needlessly dragged on since his birth, forcing the Supreme Court to step in and weigh in on the matter. For the judges presiding on the case, it is particularly difficult to decide the outcome, yet the final decision rests in their hands.
Since the official recognition of Israel in 1948, the American stance on historical Jerusalem has always been that it is a city unto itself. For anyone born in Jerusalem or within the municipal borders of the city, the State Department cannot list Israel, Jordan or the West Bank as birthplaces. In America’s 238-year history, the conundrum raised over whether the White House or Congress had jurisdiction over recognizing foreign countries is still the unsolved issue.
Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky, the plaintiffs and parents of the 12-year-old, want to have their son’s passport reflect Israel and not Jerusalem as his birth place. This request by the parents is particularly difficult for the judges to decide on, since it can cause tensions in U.S. foreign policies with the Middle East. Alyza Lewin, the defending attorney for the Zivotofskys called U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s argument grossly exaggerated, when he stated that if the Court sided with Congress, it undermines the President’s authority to set the policy on what he called, “the most vexing and volatile and difficult diplomatic issue America has faced in decades.”
Three of the four liberal members on the Supreme Court’s panel are Jewish and clearly side with the administration on this case. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia sided with conservatives and the Congress, chiding the State Department for trying to make nice with Palestine. On the other hand, Justice Elena Kagan likened Jerusalem to a tinderbox, referring to issues faced by Palestine and Israel over the historic city. Deriding what Congress passed in 2002, as “a very selective vanity-plate law,” Kagan implied that Palestinians born in Jerusalem do not have the same right as their Israeli counterparts to list Palestine as their place of birth.
A divided panel needs someone in the middle and in this case, it is Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy known for his neutral views argued that while changing the boy’s nationality on the passport meant recognizing Israel’s claim over Jerusalem trumping the contention that Congress did not usurp the president’s recognition power. On the other hand, Kennedy put forth a compromise: designating Israel as the birth place does not signify a change in America’s foreign policy.
President George Bush, whose administration passed the law on foreign relations in 2002, included a section that Americans born in Jerusalem upon the request of the citizen or legal guardian can record Israel as their place of birth, however, a signing statement backed by the Obama administration, deemed opposing the aforementioned provision as unconstitutional. Should the Zivotofskys win, about 50,000 American citizens born in Jerusalem will line up to get the Supreme Court to get it changed.
By Rathan Paul Harshavardan.