Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 2.02.15 PMMANNY BAKER, President

On November 3, 2014, the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the right of an American citizen, 12-year old Menachem Zivotofsky, to list his place of birth as Jerusalem, Israel, on his US passport. Somehow, the notion that Jerusalem was identified as part of Israel raised alarms with the State Department, and they denied the request. The Zivotofskys sued and lost. The decision was appealed, but upheld by the DC Circuit Court.  A further appeal was made to the Supreme Court, and the case was heard on November 3. The decision is likely to come down in 2015, and the LA Times reported on November 4 that the conservative justices appeared favorable to the Zivotofsky appeal, while the liberal judges supported the administration. The wild card apparently will be Justice Kennedy. Incidentally, the three Jewish justices appeared to be sympathetic to the government’s case, and not to Zivotofsky.

An editorial in the LA Times on November 3 raised some interesting issues. The State Department denied the request saying that the administration did not want to allow it since it would in effect grant status to Jerusalem, which is still on the table with respect to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.  Further, the argument went, recognizing capitals was within the purview of the president, and if the president chose at this point in time not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (as previous presidents had done), that was his constitutional right, even if Congress had passed laws urging the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

There is no question that the president has the authority to grant recognition to a state; however, I question whether the president or prime minister of any country has the authority to define what city another country declares as its capital. That seems to amount to an inordinate amount of chutzpah. UN Resolution 181 which partitioned the Palestine mandate into Jewish and Arab countries established that there should be an “international regime” for Jerusalem. The Arabs rejected the partition plan.  The moment the British mandate ended, and the State of Israel came into existence, the Arab nations attacked, and the War of Independence began. When truce was declared, the Old City was in Jordanian hands, and the New City was in Israeli hands.  Separate governments were established, and the “international regime” never came into existence. The world seemed satisfied with a divided city and separate governmental entities. This remained unchanged until the Six Day War, when Israel captured the Old City from Jordan and declared the entire city as Israel’s.

I find it strange that any country states that it has the right to dictate where a sovereign nation establishes its capital.  Would the question arise if this were a country other than Israel? I sometimes wonder.