New York – Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, an American citizen who was born in Jerusalem, won his appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals, after the federal district court in Washington, D.C. dismissed his case against the U.S. State Department in the fall of 2004.
Zivotofsky sued the State Department to force it to comply with a federal law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002, which permits American citizens born in Jerusalem to have “Israel” listed as their country of birth on their passports and other official documents. Before this law was enacted, the passports and other documents of American citizens born in Jerusalem listed “Jerusalem” only as their birthplace.
President Bush signed the legislation into law, but he declared that the law interfered with his authority to conduct foreign affairs and that it would be considered advisory, not mandatory. State Department officials have followed the President’s directive and have not complied with the law. U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem thus continue to have only “Jerusalem” listed on their passports and other official documents and not “Israel,” their country of birth.
In the fall of 2004, the district court dismissed the Zivotofsky complaint and a similar complaint filed on behalf of another American plaintiff born in Jerusalem by the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice (ZOA-CLJ). Both the Zivotofsky and ZOA-CLJ cases were consolidated for hearing before the district court because they raised virtually identical issues. The district court decided that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, and that the cases presented a political question that the court could not resolve.
The Zivotofsky case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and was argued by Nathan Lewin, Esq., a member of the ZOA-CLJ’s advisory board. The Court of Appeals overturned the district court’s decision, concluding that Zivotofsky does have standing to sue. The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the district court, so that both sides could develop a more complete record relating to whether the law is mandatory or advisory, and other issues.
Susan Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA-CLJ, applauded the appellate court’s decision: “The Court of Appeals properly recognized that Menachem Zivotofsky was injured by the State Department’s failure to enforce his right under federal law to have “Israel” listed on his passport and other documents, and that he can enforce this right in court. This is an important first step in ensuring that this clearly worded federal law — which mandates the State Department to recognize the birthplace of Americans born in Jerusalem as “Israel” — is fully and properly enforced. The ZOA is proud to have been involved in helping to move this important issue forward.”
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein noted, “I am presently in Israel, together with other leaders of major American Jewish organizations. Just this week, we met with Ambassador Richard Jones, the new U.S. Ambassador to the State of Israel. I asked Ambassador Jones whether he would work with us to fulfill U.S. obligations under this federal law. Ambassador Jones told me that he was not aware of this issue, but assured me that he would be looking into the matter. We are sending him a copy of the Court of Appeals’ decision, in the hope that he will encourage the State Department to reconsider its position and follow the mandate of the U.S. Congress.”