Can a US passport state that “Israel” is the birth country of a US citizen born in Jerusalem?
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is one of a number of civic groups that has filed an amicus brief – a written argument seeking to sway the court in one direction or another.
But it is in the minority seeking to get the highest court to answer “no.”
The case stems from a 2003 law – Section 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Act – which provides that “for the purposes of the registration of birth, certification of nationality, or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem,” the Secretary of State “shall, upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel.”
In July 2013, the US Court of Appeals found the law to be unconstitutional because it infringes on the power of the president to recognize “foreign sovereigns.”
The petitioner in the Supreme Court case, Menachem Zivotofsky (via his parents Ari Z. and Naomi Siegman Zivotofsky), a US citizen born in Jerusalem, is asking the justices to overrule the appeals court and reinstate the law.
The State Department and the Obama administration want the Supreme Court to uphold the appeal court’s ruling that the law is invalid and that only they have the right to recognize whether or not Jerusalem is part of “Israel.”
In its 30 September brief, ADC argues that the law discriminates against Palestinian-Americans because, as it explains in a press release, the law “allows American citizens born in Jerusalem to put ‘Israel’ as their place of birth on their passport, while not allowing Palestinian-Americans born in Jerusalem to put Palestine as their place of birth on their passport.”
ADC says the law is part of a trend in Congress to push forward “discriminatory and biased legislation in favor of Israeli-Americans and against Palestinian-Americans” – and therefore it violates the constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
The brief also supports the administration’s position that the president “has exclusive power to recognize foreign sovereigns and their territorial boundaries,” that it infringes on executive authority and unconstitutionally hands executive powers to private citizens.
ADC’s amicus brief can be found at its website.
Most of the amicus briefs filed in the case appear to be in support of the law, including from such staunchly anti-Palestinian groups as the Zionist Organization of America, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the United States Senate – which all predictably support the law as part of their long-standing agenda of helping Israel legitimize its occupation of Jerusalem.
No country in the world recognizes Israel’s claim to Jerusalem.
Texas weighs in
The State of Texas has even weighed in, allegedly on the grounds of “ensuring that executive-branch policies remain responsive to Congress – the only branch of the federal government in which the States are represented.”
But Texas also takes a clear pro-Israel position arguing that Congress is entitled to conclude that “it is more important to respect the freedom of conscience of citizens like Menachem Zivotofsky and his parents, who believe strongly that Jerusalem belongs to Israel, and who should not be forced to carry badges espousing the President’s belief that Jerusalem is no-man’s land.”
Texas is silent about the fact that Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans living under Israeli military occupation, including in Jerusalem, are forced to live under oppressive and discriminatory conditions that no Americans would willingly accept for themselves.
At least one Jewish group has taken a position in support of the administration. True Torah Jews filed an amicus brief on behalf of Satmars and other non-Zionist Jews.
In a statement on its website, True Torah Jews said that its brief, also filed this week, “argues that the court should dismiss the case on procedural grounds: the petitioner has suffered no cognizable ‘injury in fact’ from the fact that the passport does not say ‘Israel’ and therefore has no standing to sue” under the US constitution.
The Satmars are the largest group of Ultra-Orthodox – or Hasidic – Jews in the United States.
They adopt a fiercely anti-Zionist position rooted in their religious belief that the creation of a worldly “Jewish state” in the absence of the messiah is a blasphemy.
They hold the view that Zionism is largely responsible for present-day hostility towards Jews.
Satmar leaders strictly forbid their followers from taking any money from the Israeli state, unlike other Hasidic sects that are represented in parliament and bargain for Israeli government subsidies in exchange for political support.
Recently, Satmars have taken more active political stances, participating in massive demonstrations opposing an Israeli law to draft their men into the army.
True Torah Jews says its brief explains that “Zionists should not be seen as speaking for traditionally Orthodox Jews,” especially “in the case of expansionist Zionists and those supporting the settler movement, for whom recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is an important step toward the goal of legitimizing all Israeli expansionism.”
Jerusalem at stake
The attention this case is receiving is an indicator that its implications reach far beyond the issue of passports. If the Supreme Court hands more power over foreign policy to Congress, that will be seen as a major win for the Israel lobby.
The current incumbent of the White House is, in practice, the most supportive of Israel ever, but whenever any dispute arises between a US president and Israel, it is to Congress that the lobby turns for unquestioning support.
Congress may then be able to force through additional policies that help Israel complete its violent ethnic cleansing and colonization of Jerusalem.
The Supreme Court is due to hear arguments in the case on 3 November and is not likely to issue a ruling until the spring of 2015.