US lawmakers urge recognition of Jerusalem births as in Israel

In letter, 52 Congress members lament State Department’s policy of leaving out the country name when US citizens are born in Israel’s capital

The US consulate on Agron Street in Jerusalem. (CC BY-SA, Magister/Wikimedia)
The US consulate on Agron Street in Jerusalem. (CC BY-SA, Magister/Wikimedia)

Dozens of United States lawmakers wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week calling on him to change the longstanding US policy of refusing to recognize Americans born in Jerusalem as individuals born in Israel.

The State Department has long resisted recognizing Jerusalem as part of Israel in Americans’ birth certificates and other documentation, saying that doing so could hurt US diplomats’ ability to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In their letter, dated May 3, the lawmakers insisted that such recognition would cause “no perceptible geopolitical impact” but would be “meaningful to a number of our fellow citizens. It would honor the individual’s personal dignity and cherished personal identification with ‘Israel’ as his place of birth.”

The lawmakers cited other examples in arguing that “it is not unusual for the State Department to honor the personal preferences of American citizens born abroad when it comes to how their birthplaces are designated on their passports.”

The letter, published by the conservative Washington paper The Free Beacon, noted that the State Department allows individuals born within “sovereign Israel after 1948” to leave out the country altogether if they do “not want to identify with Israel,” or to record “Palestine” for those born inside Israel’s borders before 1948 who ask for that designation.

It also noted that the State Department recognizes births of Americans in Taiwan as taking place in a country designated as “Taiwan,” rather than “China,” despite the fact that the US officially acknowledges the Chinese claim that Taiwan is part of China.

A 2003 law passed by the US Congress demanded that births of Americans in Jerusalem be registered as taking place in Israel in official State Department papers. After the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both refused, the law was overturned in 2015 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that only the president had the constitutional power to recognize foreign sovereign states and entities.

The letter was penned by two Republican congressmen, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Bill Johnson of Ohio, who jointly chair a new conservative pro-Israel caucus, the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus, according to a press release Saturday.

The Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank dealing with the region, welcomed the letter, the release said.

“The previous decision to ignore the law passed by Congress was illogical and illegitimate,” said the Forum’s director, Gregg Roman, adding that the move would constitute “a relatively small and easy step” by the Trump administration “to demonstrate its political will toward Israel with few diplomatic repercussions.

“By not following the precedent of Taiwan and other similar examples, the previous administrations were singling out Israeli citizens; this is a great chance to rectify this discriminatory anomaly.”

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