Ruling denies Jerusalem-born Americans right to list Israel as birthplace

( A law enabling Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on U.S. passports is unconstitutional because it infringes on the president’s executive power, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on Tuesday.

In 2003, Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky, the parents of Jerusalem-born Menachem Zivotofsky, filed a lawsuit demanding that the U.S. State Department enforce the law passed by Congress in 2002 so that Menachem could list “Jerusalem, Israel” as the birthplace on his passport. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the appeals court needed to rule on the enforcement issue.

But Judge Karen Henderson of the appeals court’s three-judge panel wrote on Tuesday that the president — not the legislative branch — “exclusively holds the power to determine whether to recognize a foreign sovereign.” This U.S. has not officially recognized Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem since the Jewish state gained independence in 1948.

Jewish groups criticized the court’s decision. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed hope that the Supreme Court “will reverse this policy that discriminates singularly against Israel, and will afford those born in Jerusalem the same right accorded to those born elsewhere” if it hears the Zivotofsky case again.

“Current practice in regard to the passport issue is inconsistent with legislation passed by the Congress of the United States, recognizing united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” the Conference of Presidents said.

Marc Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s general counsel, said the ruling “undermines the existing balance of power between the Congress and Executive branch in foreign policy.”

The appeals court “has effectively given a stamp of approval to the offensive State Department policy that singles out Israel for ‘special’ treatment,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“All other American citizens born abroad may choose to list a city or area of birth instead of a country,” Foxman said. “Even Taiwan-born U.S. citizens are permitted to identify Taiwan as their birthplace, despite protests by China, the recognized sovereign over that territory.”

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