US Jewish groups slam administration’s ‘hypocritical’ view on Jerusalem
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US Jewish groups slam administration’s ‘hypocritical’ view on Jerusalem

ADL, AJC, Conference of Presidents express disappointment, concern over ruling barring Jerusalem-born US citizens from citing Jewish state on passport

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Ari Zivotofsky (right), stands with his nine-year-old son, Menachem, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC,  November 7, 2011. (photo credit: AP/Evan Vucci, File)
Ari Zivotofsky (right), stands with his nine-year-old son, Menachem, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, November 7, 2011. (photo credit: AP/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON — A long list of major American Jewish organizations, many of which had filed amicus briefs supporting the inclusion of the word “Israel” on passports for US citizens born in Jerusalem, expressed dismay at Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that American citizens born in Jerusalem may only list their birthplace as Jerusalem, rather than as Jerusalem, Israel.

The ruling affirmed that the president holds the power to grant formal recognition to a foreign nation and that Congress cannot pass a law directing the State Department how to record the place of birth of a child born to American parents abroad. The original case was brought by the parents of now-13-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, in an effort to have “Israel” appear on their Jerusalem-born son’s US passport.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group representing 51 organizations, issued a statement saying that the organization’s leaders were “deeply concerned” by the ruling.

“We do not believe that Jerusalem-born American citizens having Israel on their passport would impinge on future negotiations or compromise the role of the United States,” argued Chairman Stephen Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein. “Tens of thousands of Americans are affected by this decision.”

Abraham Foxman (photo credit: David Karp/JTA)
Abraham Foxman (photo credit: David Karp/JTA)

Hoenlein and Greenberg expressed hope that “a constitutionally acceptable path can be found to assure that Americans born in Jerusalem will be accorded their full rights, including the designation of their country of birth.”

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, described the US government’s approach regarding Jerusalem as “hypocritical and myopic.”

The ADL had spearheaded an amicus brief signed by 12 Jewish organizations which argued that Americans born in Jerusalem should be able to identify their country of birth on their passport in the same way other American citizens born abroad may do.

“The question for the Supreme Court in this case involved a simple and ministerial act – whether or not US citizens born in Jerusalem should be allowed to list their birth place as Israel,” Foxman wrote after the ruling. “The answer to that should have been an easy yes. And the court did not have to issue a sweeping decision about executive power to reach that conclusion.”

Foxman called on the administration to “step up,” asking “how long will the US government continue to have this hypocritical and myopic approach?”

“It is sad and unfortunate that Israel – as a sovereign nation – is the only country in the world whose capital comes under such scrutiny and has to defend its right to determine where its capital city exists,” Foxman continued. “It’s time for the Executive Branch to face the reality: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he concluded, echoing statements made Monday by Israeli leaders.

Similar expressions of disappointment came from across the Jewish religious spectrum.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that his organization was “disappointed” by the decision, which he described as “circumscribing the right of Americans born in Jerusalem to lawfully and accurately identify their birthplace as Israel.”

“We are saddened that American citizens born in Jerusalem, the holy city to which the Jewish people worldwide have an enduring and unbreakable connection, and the capital of the United States’ longstanding ally, Israel, will be barred from having their place of birth listed as ‘Israel’ on their birth certificates and American passports,” Pesner wrote in a statement Monday.

The Religious Action Center was one of the organizations that signed on to the ADL brief, and Pesner noted that “the Reform Movement has long called for US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that nation should not be subjected to legal disadvantages under US law that are not applied to other nations.”

America’s largest Orthodox umbrella organization, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, also expressed disappointment with the Monday morning ruling by the US Supreme Court in the Jerusalem passport case.

Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, wrote in a statement that while the organization was “of course, disappointed” by the Monday ruling, “we are more disappointed by the persistent policy of the United States government – carried out by successive presidents – to treat the capital city of Israel with less respect than that accorded to capital cities of virtually every other nation.”

“Jerusalem is unquestionably the capital of Israel,” he added. “Even after this court decision, it is high time for the US administration to acknowledge the reality of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.”

The Orthodox Union, like the Religious Action Center, was also a signatory on the ADL friend of the court brief that urged the justices to uphold Congressional legislation requiring the State Department to write Jerusalem, Israel, on US-issued passports. Other organizations signing the brief included the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), B’nai B’rith International, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism, Women of Reform Judaism, and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism

The news of the ruling came in the midst of the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum. The AJC wrote that it was also “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.

“The Supreme Court ruling is a personal tragedy for the Zivotofsky family, and a greater one for all US citizens who legitimately claim Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, as their place of birth,” said AJC General Counsel Marc D. Stern.

The AJC had also filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that “Congress has an important role to play in determining America’s decision on recognition of foreign governments and in setting passport policy.”

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