Following President Barack Obama’s call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, there has been much talk about his treatment of America’s greatest ally in the Middle East. Some accuse him of being anti-Israel, while claiming that his stances have irreparably damaged his support among American Jews.
Now, Obama faces additional scrutiny surrounding a battle over Israeli-American passports and the administration’s stance on Jerusalem. To add insult to injury, the fight is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, where the president could face public defeat on the issue this fall.
The controversy can be summarized as follows: If an American citizen was born in Jerusalem, the United States government will not include “Israel” as the locality of birth on an individual’s passport. Considering the ongoing debate surrounding Jerusalem, this decision has purportedly been made to avoid inciting international anger among those who would dispute Israel’s ownership of the city. Some have called this move discriminatory, while others — mainly those in the executive branch — have defended it.
But, regardless of once’s stance on the issue, the time has come to conclusively settle the debate. The family of Menachem Zivotofsky, an American citizen who was born in Jerusalem in 2002, is taking legal action in an effort to change the U.S. State Department’s policy.
At the heart of this debate is a 2002 instruction to the State Department (within the Foreign Relations Authorization Act) by Congress. By law, the Department is required to record Israel as the place of birth on passports of American children who were born in Jerusalem, should parents request it. The New York Times sheds more light on the issue:
This fall, not long after Menachem turns 9, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in his case, which seeks to force the executive branch to follow the 2002 law. The case weaves together generations of conflict in the Middle East, the dueling roles of Congress and the president in the conduct of foreign affairs and the combustible topic of presidential signing statements.
Nathan Lewin, a lawyer for Menachem and his parents, said the point pressed in the lawsuit was a modest one shared by many people. “This client is representative of a large group of American citizens born in Jerusalem who are proud of the fact that they were born in Israel,” he said, “and they want their passports to reflect that fact.”
The Obama administration failed to convince the High Court not to hear the case. Additionally, the justices will force all sides to face the question of whether the contentious law “impermissibly infringes the president’s power to recognize foreign sovereigns.”
In the past, the courts have said that the president’s authority to “receive ambassadors and other public ministers” also means that he has the power to recognize foreign governments. Robert J. Reinstein, a law professor at Temple University, disagrees with this sentiment and claims that the president does not have the authority to recognize foreign states and governments.
President Obama isn’t alone in his efforts to avoid complying with the law. While it was signed by President George W. Bush back in 2002, Bush expressed his disagreement with its tenets and claimed that he would not necessarily comply with it. Perhaps Thompson Reuters best summarizes the presidents’ stance on the matter:
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama say this unconstitutionally limits their powers, since U.S. policy for six decades has been to leave Jerusalem’s status to Israel and the Palestinians.
Groups like One Nation stand strongly against both presidents’ stances on the issue, but they particularly target Obama in their reaction:
This case is especially important at a time when the US President has effectively endorsed the division of Jerusalem in calling for a return to the 1967 lines while an overwhelming majority of Congress supports defensible borders and a united Jerusalem.
The debate over which branch of government has the authority to decide an issue like this will likely be settled this fall. It will be intriguing to see how both sides rationalize their viewpoints on the matter.