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What's at Stake Here?

August 31, 2011
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Next month, when the U.S. Supreme Court reconvenes, there will be a case on the docket that's expected to be of considerable interest to the Jewish community. The justices have agreed to hear M.B.Z. v. Clinton, No. 10-699, which concerns whether or not the phrase "Jerusalem, Israel" can be placed on a particular child's American passport.

The young man in question is the soon to be 9-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, whose parents, Ari and Naomi, want his birthplace to be listed as Israel. The State Department has refused, even though there's a law on the books, passed by Congress back in 2002 and signed by President George W. Bush, that says such a designation must be made. As Ron Kampeas reported in a June JTA piece which ran in the Jewish Exponent, "Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem, which the United States has not recognized as sovereign to Israel."

The State Department is insisting that Congress can have no say in what is at heart a foreign policy matter, i.e., the status of Jerusalem.

The JTA piece also said that the case "has been bouncing between the courts for years." In May, the high court decided it wanted to consider how much clout Congress has in such matters.

As other news reports have pointed out, back in 2002, Bush insisted that Congress doesn't have the authority to pass such bills, even though he signed this one. President Barack Obama agrees with Bush. This is the major point the Supreme Court will rule upon come October.

Adding to the brouhaha is the recent removal from photos on the White House website of any reference to Jerusalem, Israel.

Why has this case garnered so much attention and caused such ramifications? Aside from all the talk about presidential and congressional powers, the simple fact remains that the majority of Americans born in Jerusalem were likely born in Western Jerusalem, which is within the pre-1967 borders that the president wishes to use as the starting point for any future peace talks. That means these people came into the world in what everyone now recognizes as Israel.

If pressed, most committed Jews would say that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state -- their beloved Israel -- and, in addition, these same people would likely say they'd like it to remain undivided. Obviously, many in Washington disagree.

But the only thing that's indisputable in this ongoing controversy is that the Obama administration, like many before it, is bending over backwards so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Palestinians while not caring a wit how often it offends the Israelis and Jews around the world.

No matter the outcome of M.B.Z. v. Clinton, neither the status of Jerusalem nor the tendency to offend Jews will likely be cleared up by whatever the justices eventually decide.

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