Published May 01, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Menachem Zivotofsky was born in a Jerusalem hospital in 2002. Two months later, his mother showed up at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, to get a passport for her infant son.
Menachem's parents, Ari and Naomi, were born in the United States so there was no question that he was American, too.
But when the mother asked that her son's passport show he was born in Israel, State Department officials refused, citing longstanding U.S. policy to refrain from expressing an official view about Jerusalem's status. Israel has proclaimed the once-divided city as its capital; the U.S. and most nations do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital.
A lawsuit followed. The dispute over Menachem's passport, a mix of the thorny politics of the Middle East and a fight between Congress and the president over primacy in foreign policy, has landed at the Supreme Court. The justices could say as early as Monday whether they will hear the case.
Had Menachem been born in Tel Aviv, the State Department would have issued a passport listing his place of birth as Israel. The regular practice for recording the birth of a U.S. citizen abroad is to list the country where it occurred.
But the department's guide tells consular officials, "For a person born in Jerusalem, write Jerusalem as the place of birth in the passport."
Ever since President Harry S. Truman recognized Israel upon its declaration of nationhood in 1948, no president has accepted permanent Israeli rule of the entirety of Jerusalem.
In 1995, Congress essentially adopted the Israeli position, saying the U.S. should recognize a united Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Shortly before Menachem's birth, lawmakers passed new provisions urging the president to take steps to move the embassy to Jerusalem and allowing Americans born in Jerusalem to have their place of birth listed as Israel.
The measures were part of a large foreign affairs bill that President George W. Bush signed into law. But even as he did so, Bush issued a signing statement in which he said that "U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed."
The case is Zivotofsky v. Clinton, 10-699.