Commentary Magazine


“Jerusalem, Israel” Goes Before the Supreme Court

In “Scrubbing Israel,” Ben Smith notes that the Supreme Court will hear Zivotofsky v. Clinton on Monday, considering the constitutionality of the 2002 law that directs the secretary of state to designate “Israel” as the place of birth on the passport of an American citizen born in Jerusalem, if the citizen so requests.

Smith’s title reflects the fact that a few days after the New York Sun publicized the White House photos of Vice President Biden’s trip to “Jerusalem, Israel” (and hours after National Review Online published one of them), the White House scrubbed “Israel” from the captions. Smith also highlights Omri Ceren’s “startling” report on “Contentions” that the administration scrubbed references to “Jerusalem, Israel” in official State Department reports published by the Bush administration.

Finally, Smith cites newly discovered documents referencing “Jerusalem, Israel” in prior administrations as well:

A search of the Nixon Library, for instance, turns up his daily diary. A search of the Carter Library turns up ten similar documents. And a search of the Clinton Library finds all sorts of documents labeled “Jerusalem, Israel,” including the classic eulogy of Yitzhak Rabin. Even a search of current .gov websites turns up a spray of bureaucratic products referring to “Jerusalem, Israel.”

The Zionist Organization of America’s amicus brief in Zivotofsky lists references to “Jerusalem, Israel” on documents found on the sites of the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, State, and Treasury. Hillary Clinton’s brief nevertheless asserts that any U.S. action that would signal “symbolically or concretely” that it recognizes Jerusalem as within Israeli sovereign territory would “critically compromise the ability of the United States to … further the peace process.”

It is ironic that Hillary Clinton became the named defendant in this case. In 2002, as senator from New York, she voted for the law. In 1994, her husband signed legislation allowing American citizens born in Taiwan to have “Taiwan” put on their passports even though U.S. policy – both before and after the legislation — was that there is only one China (the People’s Republic) and that Taiwan was not a separate country.

It is even more ironic (to use the mildest possible word) that the candidate who in 2008 told 7,000 people at AIPAC, at a critical moment in his presidential campaign, that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided” is now seeking as president to have the Court hold unconstitutional a similar law with respect to Jerusalem, Israel.