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The elusive US passport

Remember Menachem Zivotofsky? In Zivotofsky v. Clinton, (2012) the Supreme Court of the United States held that the American parents of little Menachem Zivotofsky, who had been born in Jerusalem in 2002, could sue the State Dept. to have his passport read “Jerusalem, Israel” rather than just “Jerusalem” – the place of birth DOS chose to print in his passport, a city attached to no particular country.

Now, after President Trump had recognized the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, should the Zivotofskys haul their 15-year-old Menachem to the nearest US consulate to have his passport altered? Apparently, not yet.


The Court said that Zivotofsky could test the constitutionality of a Congressional law that ordered the Secretary of State to list people born in Jerusalem as born in Israel. This action was taken over the objections of the State Department, which insisted that issues of foreign policy were inherently political and thus not under the Courts’ jurisdiction. Then the Court of Appeals in July 2013 ruled that a 2002 Congressional amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, saying that “[f]or purposes of the registration of birth, certification of nationality, or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem, the Secretary shall, upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel,” was an unconstitutional infringement on the President’s executive powers.

On April 21, 2014, the Supreme Court granted the Zivotofskys’ petition for certiorari (a writ seeking judicial review), and then, in Zivotofsky v. Kerry (2015), the Court held that the President has an exclusive power of recognition, and, therefore, Congress may not require the State Department to regard Jerusalem as part of Israel.

So, now that the president holds that Jerusalem is part of Israel – what’s Menachem Zivotofsky’s birthplace, just Jerusalem, or the entire package, Jerusalem and Israel?

According to the AP, the US State Dept. says it’s still just “Jerusalem,” hovering in mid-air, ethereal, disconnected, a municipality without a country.

“At this time, there are no changes to our current practices regarding place of birth on Consular Reports of Birth Abroad and US Passports,” DOS said in response to an AP inquiry. Of course, if US citizens were born in the eternal city before 1948, then their birthplace is marked on their passports as, “Jerusalem, Palestine.”

Incidentally, The State Department is unsure what to do about official maps of the region – how to identify Jerusalem as the capital: should the name be in bold letters? Underlined? With a star next to it? For now they decided not to issue new maps, because, as they told the AP, “The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

In other words, presidents come and go, but Foggy Bottom shall forever remain foggy.