Jerusalem is a city in a real country

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor blip for U.S.-Israel relations. But that doesn’t excuse the Washington, D.C.–based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for barring Jerusalem-born Americans from claiming on their passports that Israel is their birthplace.

As described in our story on page 7, the court this week decreed such claims unconstitutional. We charge the three-judge panel with judicial overreach, at the very least.

Despite traditionally excellent bilateral relations, ever since Israel’s birth in 1948, successive U.S. administrations have declined to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, opting for a policy of neutrality on the city.

In recent years, Congress has engaged in some pushback, in 2002 passing a law challenging the administration and allowing Americans born in Israel to claim Israel as their birthplace. Because, in fact, it is. Congress got it right. 

Nevertheless, the court this week ruled otherwise, stating in a 42-page opinion that “the courts have long recognized the president’s presumptive dominance in matters abroad.”

Jewish community reaction has been swift.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called the ruling “disappointing.”

The American Jewish Committee called it “unfortunate,” adding that it “undermines the existing balance of power between the Congress and executive branch in foreign policy.”

The Anti-Defamation League expressed “deep disappointment,” with ADL national director Abraham Foxman saying the court “has effectively given a stamp of approval to the official State Department policy that singles out Israel for ‘special’ treatment.’ ”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs called on the Obama Administration to “right this wrong and allow Jerusalem-born applicants who so desire to list Israel on their passports.”

Yes, Jerusalem is the thorniest of the so-called “final status” issues yet to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. But this isn’t about that. As the Conference of Presidents puts it, this “is not a substantive ruling on the status of Jerusalem.”

On a broader level — and this is the real basis of Jewish reaction — the ruling singles out Israel, yet again, for special treatment. People born in any other country have the right to indicate that on their passports — why not those U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem, if they so choose?

The Conference of Presidents puts it succinctly: “We hope that the Supreme Court will reverse this policy that discriminates singularly against Israel, and will afford those born in Jerusalem the same right accorded to those born elsewhere.”

We agree.