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Today is Wednesday, April 23, 2014

National Council of Young Israel Applauds Supreme Court Ruling In Jerusalem Passport Case

National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) President Eli Dworetsky, Executive Vice President Rabbi Pesach Lerner, and Associate Executive Director Rabbi Bini Maryles today applauded the recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court in the matter of Menachem Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State Clinton. At issue in the case was the right of a Jerusalem-born American citizen to self-identify as born in "Israel" on his or her U.S. passport.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the DC Circuit Court in order for the court to determine if an American citizen who is born in Jerusalem can decide to list "Israel" as his or her place of birth on an American passport. In doing so, the Supreme Court reversed the DC Circuit Court's decision, which held that the Executive Branch possesses the power to oversee issues of foreign policy, not the Judicial Branch.
The National Council of Young Israel was deeply involved in this issue from the outset. The NCYI led a coalition that included the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League, which established the Association of Proud American Citizens Born in Jerusalem, which filed a legal brief in this case. The NCYI was also instrumental in creating a website,, which provided people with an opportunity to get information about the case, express support, and contact their Senators and Congressional representatives about the case. In addition, the National Council of Young Israel and its partners in the ad hoc coalition solicited the names of individuals who, like Menachem Zivotofsky, were U.S. citizens who were born in Jerusalem.
"The National Council of Young Israel commends the United States Supreme Court for taking an important step towards protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens born in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem," said NCYI President Eli Dworetsky. "By requiring the lower court to decide this case on the merits, the Supreme Court made certain that the United States cannot continue turning a blind eye to the law and arbitrarily denying U.S. nationals the right to proudly proclaim that they were born in Israel."
"The National Council of Young Israel is proud to have played an active role in decrying the discriminatory practice that adversely affected Menachem Zivotofsky and countless other people like him," said NCYI Executive Vice President Rabbi Pesach Lerner. "We are hopeful that the DC Circuit Court will ultimately see fit to uphold the law as it is currently written and finally permit American citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their rightful birthplace."
Although the general rule for American citizens born abroad is that their U.S. passports list their country of birth as their place of birth, the only mandatory exception is for American citizens born in Jerusalem. The U.S. Department of State refuses to list "Israel" as the place of birth for American citizens born in Jerusalem because it claims that doing so would interfere with the President's authority to "recognize foreign sovereigns."  Instead the State Department lists "Jerusalem" as the place of birth.
The State Department allows citizens born in Jerusalem or elsewhere in Israel before 1948 to list their place of birth as "Palestine."  Citizens born in the territories after 1948 have "West Bank" or "Gaza Strip" as their place of birth even though no American President has ever recognized such sovereigns. In addition, the State Department permits American citizens born in a city that is within the recognized boundaries of Israel such as Tel Aviv or Haifa to substitute the city of their birth if the person "object[s] to showing their birthplace in the passport."  In other words, those who wish to remove "Israel" from their U.S. passports may go against the general rule and list their city of birth instead of their country of birth. But those born in Jerusalem who prefer that their passports follow the general rule (and list their country of birth as the place of birth) may not list "Israel" on their passports.
In 2002, Congress passed a law to rectify this inequity. The law required the State Department to list the place of birth on U.S. passports as "Israel" for those American citizens born in Jerusalem who request it.  When the law was enacted, President George W. Bush issued a "signing statement" declaring that the law impermissibly interfered with his constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs so that he would not follow it.
Menachem Zivotofsky is an American citizen born in Jerusalem shortly after the law was passed. His parents requested that the place of birth on his U.S. passport be listed as "Israel."  The State Department refused, and instead listed "Jerusalem."  Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, LLP, agreed to represent the Zivotofskys and have litigated the case pro bono for eight years. Their case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in November 2011.