The State Department’s Passport Problem

Photo by Jacob Kornbluh


The State Department is treating President Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights differently than his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

WHY DOES IT MATTER? PASSPORTS — A State Department spokesperson tells Jewish Insider that no notation on American passports has changed with President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem. Some will recall the 2014 case of Menachem Zivotofsky, who sued then-Secretary of State John Kerry to be able to list Jerusalem, Israel — rather than just “Jerusalem” — on his passport. Zivotofsky lost at the Supreme Court, with a majority of justices concurring that the President has the exclusive “power to recognize foreign nations in relation to consular reports.”

KEY QUESTION — How will President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem and of the Golan Heights change the State Department’s policy of stating only “Jerusalem” for those born in Jerusalem, and “Syria” for those born in the Golan?

A State Department spokesperson says, “The President has made clear that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem remain subject to final status negotiations between the parties. We have therefore not changed our practice regarding Jerusalem as a place of birth on passports or Consular Reports of Birth Abroad at this time.”

Asked about the notation for persons born in the Golan, the spokesperson told JI that “these and other policies will be updated consistent with the President’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” Whereas it seems the Golan Heights will soon be treated by Foggy Bottom as Israeli territory — and reflected as such on official documentation — the State Department has no plans to list “Jerusalem, Israel” on American passports or consular reports.

GOING FORWARD — The Zivotofsky precedent, in effect, helps President Trump establish his office’s primacy in matters of foreign recognition. As such, his administration will have the final say in how Jerusalem, as with the Golan, is rendered on official U.S. documents.


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