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How American Jewish leaders are undermining two-state solution - via Jerusalem

Considering the U.S. sees East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state within the framework of any viable two-state solution, mainstream American Jewish leaders’ insistence that Israel should be listed as the birthplace in Jerusalem-born American citizens’ passports undermines U.S. foreign policy and the two-state solution. 

This article was originally published in The Daily Beast’s Open Zion on Friday July 26, 2013.

A U.S. passport (Illustrative photo: Shutterstock.com)

On Tuesday, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that Americans born in Jerusalem cannot list Israel as their birthplace on their U.S. passports, in accordance with long-standing U.S. policy. The reason the judges provided is that doing so would infringe on the president’s exercise of power regarding recognition of foreign governments — which has since 1948 meant a refusal to recognize Israel or any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, since its final status must be determined in negotiations. The court decision concludes a case originally opened in 2003 by parents of a Jerusalem-born American Jewish boy, Menachem Zivotofsky, who requested to list Israel as the birthplace on his U.S. passport.

American Jewish groups were quick to condemn the decision, insisting that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and calling on the Supreme Court to reverse the decision and maintain that Americans should have the right to list “Israel” as their birthplace, and not just “Jerusalem.” The chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America issued a statement that the decision “leaves 50,000 Americans without an official birth country.”

In an op-ed in Haaretz, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman goes so far as to call the ruling discriminatory, saying it deprives Americans of their civil right to identify themselves on their passports as they wish. He asks how it is that the issue has become “so political,” and insists it “should not be a question of technicalities or legalities or separation of powers. It should be a question of sensible public policy — recognition of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel.”

Apparently Foxman is unaware, or chooses to ignore, that Jerusalem is in fact quite a “political” issue, one of the thorniest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that no country in the world will house its embassy in Jerusalem, because nobody except Israel formally recognizes Jerusalem as that country’s capital, doesn’t seem to register with him. Neither does the fact that the Palestinian residents of the city are citizens of nowhere, subject to an Israeli government they cannot elect and devoid of the luxury to choose which country to list as their birthplace. Foxman also doesn’t seem aware that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who become American citizens (or spend enough years out of Jerusalem) are stripped of their residency, leaving their freedom to enter the very place they were born to the whims of the Israeli authorities.

Foxman argues that it is “sensible public policy” to give precedence to the U.S.-Israel “special relationship” in such matters. (Despite having actually initially complained that this was an example of the U.S. singling out Israel for “special” treatment in the negative sense.) For an American claiming to advocate civil rights of American citizens, how can that possibly be sensible, considering it goes against stated American policy that Jerusalem — like the West Bank, Gaza and Golan — are all territories whose status must be determined by negotiations? The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, which Foxman himself quotes, details very clearly in section 7.f. that: “[f]or a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank for a person born within the current municipal borders of Jerusalem.” Foxman’s arguments — like the suit filed by the Zivotofskys — is no less than a concerted effort to undercut and override U.S. foreign policy on Jerusalem, and shows a total disregard for the human and civil rights of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry making grinding efforts to get Palestinians and Israelis negotiating again, the argument made by Foxman and other American Jewish groups in the same camp can only be seen as disingenuous. They all must realize the issue delves right into the American government’s murky and controversial policy, whereby it does not formally recognize Jerusalem as what Israel deems to be its “eternal and undivided capital” and condemns Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem, despite continuing to be Israel’s biggest ally and donor. Considering the fact that the U.S. sees East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state within the framework of any two-state solution, it is difficult not to see this reaction by prominent American Jewish leaders as anything but an affront to the notion of a just two-state solution, and to the U.S. effort — however meager and inconsistent it may be — at acting as an effective broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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    1. The Trespasser

      It is good to know that American Jews are undermining the two-state solution.

      Silly me, I thought that it is Arab warmongers who undermine it.

      “We fought back with chants for the right of return, for one Palestinian country from the river to the sea and for freedom. Among the chants we defiantly repeated were “Palestine is our country, not just the West Bank and Gaza,” ….”

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Do you believe that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, Trespasser? Because by your definition as stated in your post, that makes you a Jewish warmonger.

        I dunno, I’d have thought that American Jews, because they don’t live here but in America, a country whose nationality they also bear, would be more interested in supporting their country’s avowed stance, favoring a compromise solution between the two sides …

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          I do believe that Arabs have no claim of any kind to Jerusalem. Certainly not due to myth that Mohammad had ever visited it.

          Compromise between sides? Are you deaf and blind?

          “… for one Palestinian country from the river to the sea …”

          There can be no compromise. Muslims are not allowed to compromise with infidels.

          Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      The division of Jerusalem would mean the destruction of the city (in the past, some of those “progressives” who post comments here said they would welcome such a thing since Jerusalem to them represents all the “reactionary” things they despise so much).
      BOTH Jews and Arabs of Jerusalem oppose the division of the city. The Arabs of east Jerusalem, as much as they might not like Israel, do not want to live under Palestinian rule, any more than do the Israeli Arabs who vehemently reject Avigdor Lieberman’s proposal to put Israeli Arab towns inside a proposed Palestinian state.
      Odd, isn’t it?….Israeli Arabs preferring Jewish rule to rule by their own beloved brothers.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      XYZ, how do you know that East Jerusalemites oppose the division of the city? Did you talk to the Palestinians living in Silwan? Sheikh Jarrah? In the building that houses Ateret Cohanim in the so-called but not really at all Muslim Quarter? They prefer living under Israeli rule to a joint Palestinian-Israeli capital? Evidence please.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Numerous polls have of Jerusalem Arabs have shown this over the years. Meron Benvenste who has finally come out of the closet as a radical anti-Zionist has also pointed this out. Many Jerusalem Arabs have requested full Israeli citizenship. There is no question this is true.
        They know better than most what living under Palestinian rule would mean. If the Jews give up VOLUNTARILY their holiest city, radical Islam would say “see, we told you they are cowards and now if we keep up the pressure we can push all the Jews and Christian out of the city and the Jews will flee Tel Aviv next.” A blood war would ensue. No doubt about it.

        Reply to Comment
        • Philos

          They request Israeli citizenship (which they have a very, very low chance of getting) because they are terrified of the expulsions and house demolition regime imposed upon them by the Jewish State. They believe that if they become Israeli citizens then they might get better treatment. The planned ethnic cleansing of the Negev ought to paid to that naive notion.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            East Jerusalmites had refused to accept Israeli citizenship when were offered.

            Changed their minds? A little too late.

            Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      Everyone talks of “Arab East Jerusalem” being the capital of a new Palestinian state.
      Yet no country in the world accepts that West Jerusalem was the Capital of Israel before 1967.
      How is it that no one will accept Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel, and yet demand that Jerusalem becomes the capital of Palestine [a country that has never existed in history, except recently on paper by UN General Assembly vote].
      Possibly a touch of classic/hidden Antisemitism there, I think.

      Reply to Comment
      • RSG, if I had a cake, and you took half my cake, and then you tried to take the rest of it, and I resisted, you’d call me an antisemite, wouldn’t you?

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          If that cake was baked from stolen wheat and on a stolen stove, what exactly makes this cake yours?

          Reply to Comment
        • rsgengland

          Read my post.
          I was , and am, talking about Israel existing.
          And in that vein, I am talking about West Jerusalem being Israels capital.
          Israel, whether you like it or not, is a legally constituted country.
          It is recognized by most countries, and International bodies as a legal entity.
          Therefore, in not recognizing West Jerusalem as Israels capital,
          I maintain that there is an element of latent Antisemitism.

          Reply to Comment
          • It isn’t just a matter of ‘west Jerusalem’. Quite plainly, it will be the whole city, and indeed the whole country. It will be Jewish. There’s no question about it, whatever anyone may feel about the rights and wrongs of it. It’s a case of force majeure. What remains unclear is whether it will ever be possible for Arab Israelis to exist, as a non-controversial ethnic minority within it, somewhat like the Welsh in England. The identity conflicts involved in being an Arab Israeli, once s/he dismisses the impossible dreams of reconquest, are formidable. But Jews know quite a lot about being an ethnic minority in any of dozens of lands and feeling that they are more than just that, that they are a nationality manqué. So, in theory, Jews ought to be able to symathise. And sometimes they do. But extracting ritual admissions from Arab Israelis that, yes, Israel is a ‘Jewish state’ is rubbing salt in the wound, and seems calculate to provoke rather than pacify. This is always the hidden dynamic of Israeli politics, and arguably of Jewish culture as a whole: there’s an intent to provoke, in order to be able to say, “Look, they all hate us.”

            Reply to Comment
    5. JG

      Good question. Nothing. That’s exactly why the EU banned goods tied to occupied territories.

      Reply to Comment