Aged 8, and taking Clinton to court

By Nathan Jeffay, August 11, 2011
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Breaking US law on Israel? Hillary Clinton

Breaking US law on Israel? Hillary Clinton

An eight-year-old boy is taking on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the American Supreme Court.

If you ask pint-sized plaintiff Menachem Zivotofsky where he was born, he gives the same answer as most Jewish Jerusalemites: Israel. But the American authorities beg to differ.

They refuse to register children born in Jerusalem as Israeli-born because the US does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the city, considering its status to be unresolved.

For Menachem, whose parents are American-born, entitling him to US citizenship, this means that his passport records his place of birth simply as Jerusalem, with no specified country.

Menachem's father, Ari Zivotofsky, says that he is particularly angry about the registration, given that the birth was not in East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967, but in West Jerusalem, which has been part of Israel since 1948. "We are not even discussing the question of whether Jerusalem is the capital but rather whether West Jerusalem, which has been part of Israel since the beginning of the state, is part of Israel," he said. "The answer is clear."

Mr Zivotofsky initiated a case shortly after his son was born, but it has been passed between various district and appeal courts for the past seven years, before recently reaching the Supreme Court. He filed the Supreme Court brief last week - "Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky v Hillary Rodham Clinton" - and expects the case to be heard in November.

The case hinges on the fact that, in 2002, Congress passed a law giving parents like Mr Zivotofsky the right to register their child as Israeli-born.

However, after signing the law, then-president George W Bush also issued a statement saying that it could undermine the executive's power to decide foreign policy. It could "impermissibly interfere with the president's constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the nation in international affairs, and determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states."

After this statement was issued, the law was never implemented.

The Zivotofsky action is inspiring other Jerusalem-born Jewish American citizens to fight for the cause. Around 120 have signed up to the Ad-Hoc Association of Proud American Citizens Born in Jerusalem, Israel.

The American Jewish community is also getting involved. In an unusual act of co-operation between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, 11 organisations from across the religious spectrum sent an amicus brief - a supporting statement - to the court echoing the Zivotofskys' argument.

"We are proud to have assembled the most significant and broad-based coalition of American Jewish organisations in recent memory," said Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"We are all united in the belief that this is an issue that transcends Israeli-Palestinian politics. As the brief clearly states, there is no need for the Supreme Court to reach into any aspect of the Middle East conflict in deciding this case."

    Last updated: 1:03pm, August 11 2011