September 20, 2007
Contact: Morton A. Klein, 212-481-1500
New York â€” The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is disappointed by yesterday’s decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, refusing to uphold the right of American citizens born in Jerusalem to have “Israel” listed as their birthplace on their passports and other official documents. Congress granted this right in 2002 when it passed legislation that was signed into law by President George W. Bush. Before this law was enacted, the passports and other documents of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem listed “Jerusalem” only, with no country of birth.
When President Bush signed the legislation into law, he issued a statement that if the law was interpreted as mandatory, rather than advisory, it would impermissibly interfere with his authority to conduct foreign affairs. Based on the President’s statement, the State Department continued to list only “Jerusalem” on the passports and other documents of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem, even when these citizens requested that “Israel” be listed as their birthplace in accordance with the 2002 law.
Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky is an American citizen born in Jerusalem. Represented by the esteemed legal team of Nathan Lewin, Esq. (who is a member of the advisory board of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice) and Alyza Lewin, Esq. of Washington, D.C., Zivotofsky sued the State Department to enforce his right under the law and compel the State Department to issue documents recognizing Israel as his birthplace. The ZOA filed a similar complaint on behalf of another American plaintiff born in Jerusalem whose case was consolidated with Zivotofsky’s.
The district court initially dismissed the cases, deciding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, and that the cases presented a political question that the court could not resolve. When Zivotofsky appealed this decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned it. The Court of Appeals concluded that Zivotofsky did have standing to sue, and sent the case back to the district court to develop a more complete record.
After allowing the parties to develop a more complete record, the district court issued yesterday’s decision, accepting the State Department’s argument that the case presented a “non-justiciable political question” that the judiciary was not equipped to resolve. Granting the State Department’s motion to dismiss Zivotofsky’s lawsuit, the district court stated that “[r]esolving his claim on the merits would necessarily require the Court to decide the political status of Jerusalem.”
Susan Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, expressed her disappointment with the court’s decision. “This case may have some political overtones, but it doesn’t require the court to decide any political questions. The case is simply about whether the State Department is obligated to enforce a clearly worded law that Congress enacted and that President Bush signed into law. Interpreting the law is precisely what the courts are empowered and required to do.”
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein, was equally dismayed by the district court’s decision: “The district court was concerned that if it decided the Zivotofsky case, it would have to decide the political status of Jerusalem. But our government has already stated its policy regarding Jerusalem, 12 year ago. At that time, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, and then-President Clinton signed it into law. The Act is clear about U.S. policy — that ‘Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel,’ and that the U.S. Embassy should be moved there. President George W. Bush himself was also clear on this issue. In speech after speech when he was running for President, George Bush repeatedly promised that on the day of his inauguration on January 20, 2001, he would move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. When he spoke at a conference on May 22, 2000, during his presidential run, he promised that ‘[a]s soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.’ The President emphasized that his ‘support for Israel is not conditional on the outcome of the peace process.’
“We urge the Zivotofsky family to appeal the district court’s decision, and are hopeful that they’ll do so. We at the ZOA stand firmly behind them.”