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Right Turn
Posted at 01:10 PM ET, 08/07/2011

The Supreme Court and Jerusalem

The Jewish Week reported:

At issue is the right of Naomi Zivotofsky to insist that the American passport she requested for her son Menachem from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv list “Israel” as his place of birth. He was born in Jerusalem in October 2002, about three weeks after President George W. Bush signed a bill directing the State Department to list “Israel” on the passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents requested it.
But the State Department denied the request, citing Bush’s comments at the bill signing in which he said the law “impermissibly interferes with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs ....”
Menachem’s parents, Naomi and Ari Zivotofsky, are both American citizens and they sued the State Department the following September to compel it follow the law.

Consider the Obama administration’s hypocrisy for a moment. This was the crew that accused Bush of shredding the Constitution.

Not surprising, virtually every Jewish pro-Israel group signed an amicus brief (the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists plan to submit “friend of the court” briefs due this week. Other groups including including the Union of Orthodox Congregations and the National Council of Young Israel are signing on to at least one of those briefs). In the U.S. Senate more than 25 senators signed onto a brief in support of Menachem Zivotofsky. When you get Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on the same page, you know this is a no-brainer for friends of Israel.

And for a community often divided by observational and political differences this was a reminder of better days when American Jews stood together in support of Israel. The ADL’s statement was among the most poignant:

“Americans born in Jerusalem should have the same right to indicate their country of birth on their passport that is currently available to other American citizens born abroad, and that is what Congress has mandated,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “The purpose of a passport is for identification, and it is indisputable that Jerusalem is in Israel. The Supreme Court should insist that the State Department follow the law.”
In its amicus brief, the league argues the State Department is failing to act in accordance with a law enacted by Congress and signed by the president. Joining the ADL brief are 10 other major American Jewish organizations and an ad hoc association representing American citizens born in Jerusalem, who have signed on to support the lawsuit, Zivotofsky v. Clinton, over the last two weeks. . . ..
“We are proud to have assembled the most significant and broad-based coalition of American Jewish organizations in recent memory,” Mr. Foxman said. “We are all united in the belief that this is an issue that transcends Israeli-Palestinian politics. As the brief clearly states, there is no need for the Supreme Court to reach into any aspect of the Middle East conflict in deciding this case.”
The suit asks the court to direct the State Department to comply with the 2002 law which directs the secretary of state, “upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, [to] record the place of birth as Israel.” The State Department manual currently provides that the passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem must say “Jerusalem,” reflecting official U.S. government policy regarding the unresolved status of Jerusalem.
Other organizations signing the brief include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, B’nai B’rith International, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Council of Young Israel, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

Well, not quite united. The lone holdout was the liberal American Jewish Committee, which not only chose not to sign the brief but to equate the suit with the unilateral U.N.declaration sought by the Palestinians:

Marc Stern, associate general counsel of the American Jewish Committee, said his organization believes “all issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict have to be settled at the negotiating table and not the U.S. Supreme Court or the U.N. with unilateral declarations. For that reason we not participating in this case because we think it is inconsistent with our general view that peace will come to the Middle East at the negotiating table and at no other forum.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t think West Jerusalem isn’t part of Israel,” Stern continued. “We do and we have our office there, and we say it is Jerusalem, Israel. But this is about official declarations, and official declarations don’t come about because somebody goes to court.”

That decision was greeted with a mixture of bewilderment and outrage by mainstream Jewish organization and Jewish Democrats. A leader in a prominent national Jewish organization was so incensed he e-mailed me from Israel. He wrote of the AJC’s position and noted that “plaintiffs aren’t asking the Supremes to decide which neighborhoods will end up in a future Palestine & which will end up in a future Israel; they’re merely asking the State Dept. to do as it does for every other country in the world — and here particularly with Congress having passed law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — this should be a no-brainer for State — which by making the exceptional policy, has created more of a controversy that if they’d just written Israel in the passports to begin with.” As for the AJC, he scoffed that the groups “should come up with a excuse than thinking that the future of Middle East peace rides on this issue.”

An irate source close to AIPAC e-mailed me: “Given that the entire Jewish community, including the reform, conservative and orthodox movements and groups from the JCPA to ZOA, is behind this amicus brief — which focuses not on foreign policy, but on whether Congress makes the law and the State Department can simply disregard it — the AJC’s rationale for standing alone, and not in solidarity with the community, is unusual to say the least. Not to mention going against the support of 28 senators for a parallel amicus brief, ranging from some of the most left-wing Democrats to conservative Republicans.”

Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, was polite, but firm in his rebuke to the AJC: “The issue raised in the Zivotofsky case is not, as Mr. Stern suggests, the ultimate resolution of the status of Jerusalem; the issue is whether the policy of the United States, recognized by two duly enacted federal laws, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city must be implemented by the State Department’s functionaries.”

Not every prominent Jewish leader was so retrained. A longtime Jewish Community activist and senior organizational official was incensed. He dashed off this message to me: “The remarks by the mid-level AJC staffer . . . were downright offensive, implying a parity between this case and Palestinian efforts refusing negotiation in favor of pursuing UDI at the United Nations. I think they owe people an apology and a better explanation than one that simply reinforces the fact they haven’t even read the brief. It seems entirely inconsistent for the AJC to say they continue to support the law, which they helped pass, but not an American citizen’s right to seek to have that law enforced.” Running through all of these comments was unmistakable anger.

I contacted the AJC and requested an interview with AJC. I was told its president, David A. Harris, was out of the country. (I wondered if he even knew what was going on back home.) I then submitted a list of specific questions including whether it thought the Jewish organizations and senators were impeding the peace process, whether the administration had requested the AJC to stay out of an issue of pressing concern to the friends of Israel and how many complaints it had received.

I got back the equivalent of a form letter from Kenneth Bandler, AJC director of media relations: “The American Jewish Committee (AJC) wholeheartedly supports the indisputable principle that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and has long advocated for international recognition of that fact. The United States Supreme Court, however, is not the proper venue to resolve foreign policy issues, and that is why AJC did not join in the Zivotofsky lawsuit. AJC strongly supports congressional legislation that mandates citing Jerusalem as an Israeli city in U.S. passports.” Why did the group not answer my specific questions? “You have our succinct, clear position on the matter.”

Actually what I got was something entirely unintelligible. The Supreme Court is not the proper venue to enforce American law? The AJC’s odd view is that it supports “congressional legislation that mandates citing Jerusalem as an Israeli city in U.S. passports” but doesn’t want it enforced?

If any AJC members or donors have insight into this bizarre stance and even more bizarre rationale, I’d love to hear it. If there is some strategy here, it’s hard to figure out. But the brief and the lawsuit are not damaged by AJC’s absense; The AJC itself is an entirely different matter.

By  |  01:10 PM ET, 08/07/2011

Categories:  American Jews, Israel, Joe Lieberman

 
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