Precisely where 1-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky was born seems unlikely to be a matter that could impact U.S. Mideast policy or the peace process.
But Menachem’s father, Ari, is hoping to use the baby’s American passport to shift the way the State Department views Jerusalem and revise its longstanding ambiguity about the city’s status.
The passport, issued in December 2002 at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, lists Jerusalem as Menachem’s place of birth with no reference to a country. Officials refused a request by his mother, Naomi, to add Israel.
Ari Zivotofsky believes the stamp violates a law passed by Congress in 2002 requiring the State Department to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
"This is a fight that has been going on for years," said Zivotofsky, a Brooklyn native who grew up in West Hempstead, L.I., and has lived in Israel with his wife and three children since 1999. Menachem is the first in the family to be born there.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens/Brooklyn), who wrote the Israeli Capital Recognition Act, joined Zivotofsky on Tuesday to announce a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Colin Powell seeking compliance with the law.
The law specifically requires the State Department to list Israel as the country or origin for U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem on passports, birth certificates and other documents. President Bush signed the bill last September but has declined to order its implementation.
"While there is a larger fight between Congress and the president on whether to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there should be no dispute at the very least that Jerusalem is in Israel," Weiner said outside the Jacob Javits federal building in Manhattan.
Weiner said Bush could have vetoed the bill if he disagreed with it but was bound by the measure now that it is law.
The congressman dismissed the notion that such a change would further aggravate the battered Mideast peace process.
"We cannot allow bureaucracies or the passport office of the Department of State to be in a suspended state of reality for the duration of the troubles of the Middle East," he said.
Zivotofsky, who teaches neuroscience at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said the passport issue was a common cause of Americans living in Israel.
"I have a lot of support from my neighbors," he said. One acquaintance, Zivotofsky said, was asked by a consular official, "How would you like it if a Palestinian had his passport stamped Gaza City, Palestine?"
When signing the bill, Bush suggested that he viewed the bill as symbolic, noting that the provisions "would, if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, impermissibly interfere with the presidentís 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."
Stuart Patt, a spokesman for the State Departmen’s Bureau of Consular Afffairs, would not comment on the lawsuit, but reiterated the persident’s view that the bill was "advisory rahter than mandatory."
Attorneys Nathan and Alyza Lewin are representing the Zivotofsky family in the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Nathan Lewin, who has represented American Jewish clients in several Middle East-related actions, said in a statement that the Zivotofsky suit would uphold the right of Congress to determine matters regarding the identification of citizens abroad.
"The president may not hide behind his foreign policy authority to flout Congress’ directive," said Lewin.