Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Both Strong and Shaky"

Arlene Kushner

Let me begin with an issue of the rights of Americans born in Jerusalem, Israel:

The case of Menachem Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State Clinton (No. 10-6990) will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2011 and decided by the end of June 2012. At issue is the right of a Jerusalem-born American citizen to self-identify as born in "Israel" on his or her US passport and Consular Report of Birth Abroad ("CRBA"). The general rule for American citizens born abroad is that their US passports list their country of birth as their place of birth. The only mandatory exception is for American citizens born in Jerusalem. The US Department of State refuses to list "Israel" as the place of birth for American citizens born in Jerusalem because it claims that doing so would interfere with the President's authority to "recognize foreign sovereigns." Instead the State Department lists "Jerusalem" as the place of birth.

In 2002, Congress passed a law that required the State Department to list the place of birth on US passports as “Israel” for those American citizens born in Jerusalem who request it. When the law was enacted, President George W. Bush issued a “signing statement” declaring that the law impermissibly interfered with his constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and so he would not follow it.


Menachem B. Zivotofsky is an American citizen born in Jerusalem shortly after the law was passed. His parents requested that the place of birth on his US passport be listed as “Israel.” The State Department refused. Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, LLP, agreed to represent the Zivotofskys and have litigated the case pro bono for eight years. Their case has now made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in November 2011.

The National Council of Young Israel, together with the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation has established a website: www.borninjerusalem.org. Via this site, you can:

[] Secure additional information.

[] Send a letter to your U.S. Senators and Congressional Representatives urging them to sign an amicus brief that will be filed on August 5, 2011 in support of Zivotofsky on behalf of Members of Congress.

[] Join the ad-hoc Association of Proud American Citizens Born in Jerusalem, Israel, if you are an American citizen born in Jerusalem and wish to have your place of birth recorded on your US passport as "Israel." The Anti-Defamation League, together with the law firm of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C., is preparing an amicus brief to be filed in the Zivotofsky case on behalf of the ADL and the Association.

(Thanks to Dorraine W. for calling my attention to this material, and to Jeff D. for his hard work on the issue.)


Strong and Shaky:
In a host of ways, Israel is demonstrating great strength:

Internationally, we've been coming out with PR that is effective and securing greater understanding in many quarters.

Domestically, we have come through recent economic turmoil far better than most Western nations and now see a shekel that is much stronger than the dollar. (Who would have thought?) Our unemployment rate has hit a new low at 5.9%, while the US is struggling with the highest rate of unemployment since the Depression.

But all of this does not mean we are without difficulties. Two issues have come to the fore domestically in recent weeks. I do not intend to analyze them in any detail. But I cannot proceed without mentioning them, as they are important matters for Israel.


One issue involves a labor dispute between members of the medical profession, in good part residents, and the government, or the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance (the Treasury), more specifically; the Labor Court is playing a role, as well. The issues are both pay and hours -- with the need to bring in more doctors to reduce current work loads deemed critical. At present there are strikes in different places, with reduced hours and services in some public medical facilities (emergencies and oncology cases are always responded to); Chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, has said he is about to begin a hunger strike.

It must be mentioned here that Netanyahu is involved not only as prime minister, but also as titular head of the Ministry of Health. (Yakov Litzman, a Ger Hasid and member of the party United Torah Judaism, serves as Deputy Minister and deals with day to day matters, but for reasons of ideology declined to assume the position of Minister. Netanyahu consented to carry that title.)


A second issue is that of housing in Israel: there is a shortage of housing in absolute terms, and a shortage of lower income housing in particular. Students, young couples and demobilized soldiers are being hit the hardest. There have been major demonstrations in the last few days, with tent cities set up in protest.

Involved here are the prime minister, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Construction and Housing.

As a resident of Jerusalem, I am keenly aware myself of the enormous cost of housing in the city. What exacerbates the situation is that one developer after another constructs "upscale" buildings that the average resident cannot touch. (Unfortunately, many of these apartments for the wealthy are sold to people who live outside of Israel and want to come for only weeks during the year. This drives up the cost of housing for everyone.)

Netanyahu called a press conference this afternoon to announce a set of reforms that is supposed to ameliorate the situation. The reforms include: the removal of barriers to planning and to the sale of land for housing; a discount in the price of land for construction; new apartments to be built that will offer reduced-cost long-term rentals -- with 50,000 affordable units to be available within two years; the building of 10,000 new dormitory units for students; and transportation discounts to make it more possible to acquire housing on the periphery.

The parties to the left are criticizing this as inadequate, but so, it seems, are many of the protesters.


There are those suggesting that these crises -- especially with regard to housing -- spell the beginning of the end for this government. I'm not ready to go there yet. Netanyahu is savvy, and might yet pull the government out of its current difficulties.

And so I say here what I frequently do: We must watch and see how it plays out.


There has also been a suggestion in some quarters that these demonstrations have been inspired or motivated by the uprising in surrounding Arab countries. But nothing could be further from the truth. Israel is a vibrant democracy with a history of strikes and demonstrations. Even if some of the current problems might cause the fall of the government, this would be part of the democratic process and would be followed by elections. This current unrest is not, in any sense, a rebellion against a repressive tyrant or an effort to overturn the system!


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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