U.S. Supreme Court: Federal Judges to Rule on ‘Jerusalem, Israel’ Passport Case

Court rules that the American parents of a boy born in Jerusalem can argue that their son's U.S. passport may list Israel as his birthplace.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the American parents of a boy born in Jerusalem can go to court in order to argue that their son's U.S. passport may list Israel as his birthplace.

Due to the State Department's long-standing policy, nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky's birth certificate, and thus his passport, show Jerusalem with no specified country of birth.


U.S. law, which actually allows passports to list “Jerusalem, Israel”, has existed since 2002. However, like Congress’ decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it was never implemented.

Monday's Supreme Court decision allows the lower courts to deal with a case which they previously rejected as meddling with the U.S. foreign policy.

Jewish organizations involved with the case praised the decision. Orthodox Union Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament stated he was very pleased with the decision, saying that "the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Jerusalem's place within in Israel are both historic and holy… with the ruling by the high court, Congressional policy on Jerusalem, ignored by successive Administrations, will get its day in court."

Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, released a statement in which he expressed his satisfaction that the Supreme Court "will let the Zivotofskys pursue their effort to list “Israel” as their son’s place of birth on his American passport.”

Foxman further praised Congress’ 2002 decision, saying that it “acted within its power when it gave individuals like the Zivotofskys the option to list their son’s place of birth as Israel."

Since Israel’s founding, the American government has not recognized any sovereignty over Jerusalem, be it Israel, Palestinian or Jordanian. As part of this policy, the U.S. embassy to Israel was established in Tel Aviv, despite a law passed in Congress, calling for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem.

Furthermore, in passports of Jerusalem-born American citizens, the name of the city appears without any reference to a home country. On the other hand, passports of Tel Aviv-born citizens read “Tel Aviv, Israel”.

On the other hand, the law does not allow Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to list “Palestine” in their passports, despite regulations which allow Palestinians born in East Jerusalem before 1948 to list “Palestine”, with no reference to Jerusalem (Palestine was considered an official sovereign entity before the founding of the State of Israel).

The issue of Jerusalem’s sovereignty is a point of contention between the administration, whether Democratic or Republican, and Congress. While congress has been taking steps to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty, the executive branch has been thwarting such measures with waivers, fearing the creation of precedents and conflict.

“I strongly commend the Supreme Court's decision to allow the federal court to consider whether American citizens born in Jerusalem can list Israel on their passports,” U.S. Representative. Howard L. Berman, said in a statement released following the court ruling.

“A passport is a document of identity, not a foreign policy manifesto,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “Americans born in Israel—whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere in the country—have the right to acknowledge Israel as their birthplace.”