U.S. Supreme Court: Jerusalem is not a foreign policy issue

The decision inches Jerusalem another step closer to de jure recognition by America as an undisputed part of sovereign Israel.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 8-1 to reject the appeal by a federal court in Washington stating that the question of whether to register someone born in Jerusalem as having been born in Israel should be subject to State Department authorization – ruling instead that it can and should be decided by federal judges. The Supreme Court decision grants full authority to lower courts to make the decision, essentially sending the message that it does not see U.S. foreign policy concerns at play in such an issue.

At the center of this case is Menachem Zivotofsky, a Jewish American child who was born in Jerusalem in 2002 whose parents wanted to list his birthplace in his U.S. passport as “Israel,” instead of Jerusalem. As I explained here back in October, Congress passed legislation in 2002 instructing the State Department to list Israel as the birthplace of those born in Jerusalem upon request. However since then, both presidents Bush and Obama have refused to implement it, citing executive prerogative, as the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been disputed since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.

While Israel declares Jerusalem to be the “undivided capital of Israel,” the United States and the rest of the world  do not recognize it as such. Registering someone born in Jerusalem as having been born in Israel provides official recognition that Jerusalem – including the Palestinian neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Issawiya – are all under Israeli sovereignty, thus directly undermining a viable  two-state solution.

This is obviously highly problematic, as the status of Jerusalem is one of the core issues that need to be resolved in any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which the United States claims to constitute a genuine broker. In this majority opinion, Justice Judge Roberts wrote:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is…That duty will sometimes involve the resolution of litigation challenging the constitutional authority of one of the three branches, but courts cannot avoid their responsibility merely because the issues have political implications.

The importance of the ruling is that it determines that Congress did not overstep its power by instructing the State Department to list Jerusalem as part of Israel and that the executive branch of government should not have to interfere.  This essentially means the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Jerusalem is not a political, foreign policy issue and thus there is no need for its status to be dealt with by the executive branch of the U.S. government.

According to a report in Haaretz, ADL Director Abraham Foxman unsurprisingly praised the decision – as did several other Jewish groups, including the Orthodox Union.

Whether Menachem Zivotofsky will actually be granted the right to list Israel as the birthplace in his passport is still up to a federal court to decide, but now it can legally be done without any interference or input by the State Department or the president. Meanwhile, Palestinians born in Jerusalem do not even have a passport, and certainly cannot list Palestine as their birthplace, but rather continue to have their national identity listed in their ID cards as “Jordan” or “unclear.”

This inches Jerusalem another step closer to de jure recognition by America as an undisputed part of sovereign Israel.