Amid the deservedly joyous celebration of the long overdue recognition by President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol, and relocation of the American Embassy there, my thoughts have repeatedly returned to Menachem Zivotofsky.

Menachem was born in Jerusalem in 2003 to American parents who had made aliya ten years earlier. They applied for an American passport for their son, giving his birthplace as “Jerusalem, Israel.” But the State Department rejected their application, listing Jerusalem without mention of Israel – as though it was a location without a country.

Only weeks earlier, President George W. Bush had signed a law with the provision that required the Secretary of State to record Israel as the place of birth on the passport of an American citizen born in Jerusalem if the child’s parent (or legal guardian) requested. But Bush also issued a signing statement stipulating that he would not comply with a law that “impermissibly interferes with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs.” In translation, he would not permit “Jerusalem, Israel” to appear on an American passport.

Menachem’s parents, proud that their son had been born in the Jewish state, responded with a law suit against the Secretary of State. State Department policy provided that “as a general rule . . . the country of the applicant’s birth” should be entered in his passport. But Department officials were instructed “Do not write Israel” on the passport – because Israel, in its biased denial – “does not include Jerusalem.” For any passport applicant born in Jerusalem after 1948, the passport could only read “Jerusalem,” not “Jerusalem, Israel.” Indeed, every American president since Harry S. Truman, who had recognized the State of Israel at the moment of its birth, had worn the same blinders to the reality of Jerusalem, Israel. Among the cities of the world, Jerusalem alone was a city without a country.

Congress responded with a law that gave the Zivotofsky claim legitimacy. It permitted Americans born in Jerusalem to list their birthplace as Israel on their passport – and urged the President to move the embassy to Jerusalem. But the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously voided the provision that recognized the city of Menachem’s birth within the country where he was born.

As it happened, a good friend of Menachem Zivotovsky’s mother was Alyza Lewin, a lawyer and the daughter of Nathan Lewin, a formidable legal advocate for Jewish causes. Defending Satmar Hasidim in their struggle for a public school district in New Jersey, he had also won a $156 million judgment against two Muslim charities for helping to underwrite Hamas terrorism. Eager to challenge the American passport law, he agreed to represent the Zivotofskys.

Fifteen years later, after lower court appeals had finally run their course, the Supreme Court overturned the law. Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that “a delicate subject lies in the background of this case. That subject is Jerusalem.” He cited the exclusive power of the president to recognize foreign nations, with the corollary that the president is empowered to determine what information passports may record. Justice John Roberts wrote a blistering dissent. He criticized the majority ruling as a “perilous step – for the first time in our history – of allowing the president to defy an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs.”

President Donald Trump has boldly embraced the historical truth that eluded his predecessors: Jerusalem, King David’s capital city after relocating his throne from Hebron three thousand years ago, is the capitol of the State of Israel. It did not happen in time for Menachem Zivotofsky’s bar mitzvah. That it happened at all will long resonate in American, Jewish and Israeli history. Kol hakavod to President Trump!

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, to be published this summer by Academic Studies Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Menachem Zivotofsky’s Dream Fulfilled

Amid the deservedly joyous celebration of the long overdue recognition by President Donald Trump of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol, and relocation of the American Embassy there, my thoughts have repeatedly returned to Menachem Zivotofsky.

Menachem was born in Jerusalem in 2003 to American parents who had made aliya ten years earlier. They applied for an American passport for their son, giving his birthplace as “Jerusalem, Israel.” But the State Department rejected their application, listing Jerusalem without mention of Israel – as though it was a location without a country.

Only weeks earlier, President George W. Bush had signed a law with the provision that required the Secretary of State to record Israel as the place of birth on the passport of an American citizen born in Jerusalem if the child’s parent (or legal guardian) requested. But Bush also

issued a signing statement stipulating that he would not comply with a law that “impermissibly interferes with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs.” In translation, he would not permit “Jerusalem, Israel” to appear on an American passport.

Menachem’s parents, proud that their son had been born in the Jewish state, responded with a law suit against the Secretary of State. State Department policy provided that “as a general rule . . . the country of the applicant’s birth” should be entered in his passport. But Department officials were instructed “Do not write Israel” on the passport – because Israel, in its biased denial – “does not include Jerusalem.” For any passport applicant born in Jerusalem after 1948, the passport could only read “Jerusalem,” not “Jerusalem, Israel.” Indeed, every American president since Harry S. Truman, who had recognized the State of Israel at the moment of its birth, had worn the same blinders to the reality of Jerusalem, Israel. Among the cities of the world, Jerusalem alone was a city without a country.

Congress responded with a law that gave the Zivotofsky claim legitimacy. It permitted Americans born in Jerusalem to list their birthplace as Israel on their passport – and urged the President to move the embassy to Jerusalem. But the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously voided the provision that recognized the city of Menachem’s birth within the country where he was born.

As it happened, a good friend of Menachem Zivotovsky’s mother was Alyza Lewin, a lawyer and the daughter of Nathan Lewin, a formidable legal advocate for Jewish causes. Defending Satmar Hasidim in their struggle for a public school district in New Jersey, he had also won a $156 million judgment against two Muslim charities for helping to underwrite Hamas terrorism. Eager to challenge the American passport law, he agreed to represent the Zivotofskys.

Fifteen years later, after lower court appeals had finally run their course, the Supreme Court overturned the law. Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that “a delicate subject lies in the background of this case. That subject is Jerusalem.” He cited the exclusive power of the president to recognize foreign nations, with the corollary that the president is empowered to determine what information passports may record. Justice John Roberts wrote a blistering dissent. He criticized the majority ruling as a “perilous step – for the first time in our history – of allowing the president to defy an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs.”

President Donald Trump has boldly embraced the historical truth that eluded his predecessors: Jerusalem, King David’s capital city after relocating his throne from Hebron three thousand years ago, is the capitol of the State of Israel. It did not happen in time for Menachem Zivotofsky’s bar mitzvah. That it happened at all will long resonate in American, Jewish and Israeli history. Kol hakavod to President Trump!

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, to be published this summer by Academic Studies Press.