Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Next week, the US Supreme Court will hear a case involving the US government's refusal to list Israel as the place of birth on the passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem. (For information about the case, please visit http://borninjerusalem.org.) I'm sure that numerous Supreme Court decisions have impacted me. But no Court decision has the potential to hit as close to home, literally and figuratively. In 2005, my wife and I were blessed to welcome our sixth child into our family, and the world. Yishai was born at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the center of Jewish life for more than 3000 years. As proud Americans, we completed the paperwork at the US Consulate to register him as an American born overseas and apply for his US passport. Despite our writing "Jerusalem, Israel" as his place of birth on the application, his passport arrived listing his place of birth only "Jerusalem." No state. Yishai is named for two relatives who were victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Yosef, my father's cousin, was just a child not much older than Yishai is today when the Nazis murdered him and his mother. He probably never even thought about seeing, much less living in, Jerusalem. But it would be hard to imagine that even as a young child, Jerusalem was not part of his consciousness, in prayer, during his last Passover Seders, and as a vision he could never comprehend. Shalom Yakov was my great grandfather. Despite raising several children and running a successful business, his life was cut short by Nazi bullets. As a mature adult, there's no doubt that he knew what Jerusalem meant. My great grandfather knew that the future of Jewish life was in Israel, and lived to see two children settle there. He must have been euphoric to know that he had a grandson (my father) born in Israel. I suspect that he'd have been even more elated to know that his great great grandson, Yishai, who is named for him, was born in Jerusalem seven decades later. Yishai’s birth was no more remarkable than the birth of any child, to the extent that the miracle of bringing a new person into the world is not remarkable. What was remarkable is that he joined tens of thousands of others that year alone who fulfilled the aspirations of millions of Jews throughout the millennia “just” by being born in a place about which they always dreamt. Jewish and Jerusalem are synonymous, and this is underscored by the fact that my son’s name, Yishai, is the Hebrew for Jesse, the father of King David, who established Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people. I don’t expect the US government to follow Biblical tradition, but I do know that hundreds of millions of Americans, and billions worldwide, know that the link between Jerusalem and the Jewish people was, is and always will be unbreakable. The omission of “Israel” as the country of Yishai’s birth is an offense that we hope the Supreme Court will fix. In no other place in the world is the country of one’s birth omitted from the passport of American citizens born abroad. Imagine the fallout from the US not recognizing Paris as part of France, Moscow as part of Russia, or Beijing as part of China. Don’t Americans born in Kurdistan have Iraq, Syria or Iran listed as the country of birth? Don’t Americans born in Tibet have China listed in their passport? And yet as much as Jerusalem might be in dispute on a diplomatic basis with governments of the world playing politics rather than doing what’s right, it’s high time that these governments stop pandering to Arab and Islamic sensitivities which seek to erase and deny any Jewish historical and religious connection to Jerusalem, and recognize that Jerusalem is an integral part of Israel. Perhaps doing so would force the hands of the Arab and Islamic rejectionists, and bring them to the negotiating table in order to get a piece of the pie. Yet until that happens, there’s no ground for the US to deny the right of an American born in Jerusalem the ability to list “Israel” his or her country of birth. Rubbing salt into the wounds of the inability to list Israel as the country of birth for such people, uniquely, Americans born in Israel have the right to omit Israel from their passport as the country of birth. So an Israeli Arab with dual US citizenship has the ability to OMIT Israel from the place of birth on his passport even if he was born in Jaffa, Haifa, or Ramle. This is a double act of discrimination and a policy that is begging to be fixed. Not only does the US government not allow an American to record his son’s birth as “Jerusalem, Israel,” but the US government does allow an American born in Israel to remove any reference of Israel from their US passport. Sadly, current US policy is not only wrong and illegal, but it also allows people who try to purge the centrality of Jerusalem to Israel the ability deny to Israel’s legitimacy, if not its very existence. The current US policy is discriminatory, contradictory, and I hope the US Supreme Court will affirm that it is illegal. I look forward to taking my son to get his new American passport, proudly registering as an American born in Israel, not a stateless city that just happens to have Jewish historical evidence and religious relics that go back thousands of years.