The parents of 9-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, American citizens all, want his passport to note that Israel is the country of his birth – surely not a problem, considering that he was born in Israel’s capital.
But that, of course, is the problem. The State Department, which issues passports, does not – or not yet – consider Jerusalem to be under Israel’s sovereignty. Yet the 2002 Foreign Relations Authorization Act states: “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.” That language was inserted, by the way, by the now disgraced and ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner. The act was signed by then President George W. Bush 17 days before Menachem was born. The Zivotofskys duly requested that Israel be designated as their son’s birthplace, and have been requesting it ever since.
Bush may have signed the bill, but he hedged his bets with one of his famous “signing statements,” which overruled Congress and concluded that “U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.”
Thus, while he avoided overtly vetoing the law, which could have cost him political capital with the American Jewish community, he in effect vetoed it. This was wrong, on several counts. First, it was deceptive. Rather than a forthright endorsement or veto, this pushmepullyou dance showed disrespect to Congress and the American people. Second, it was a disservice to this family and no doubt others in similar situations.
Menachem’s case is slated to go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Jews all over the world will be watching – for if Menachem wins his birthright, that is an implicit recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians and their supporters will be watching as well. This long drawn-out case, over one Jewish child, may have far-reaching effects.