The AJC, the Supreme Court and Jennifer Rubin
by Theodore Samets
Jennifer Rubin is angry.
Really, really angry.
What’s got Rubin, one of the loudest right-wing voices on Israel in the United States, with her perch at The Washington Post’s blog “Right Turn,” so upset? The American Jewish Committee’s refusal to join eleven other Jewish organizations in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of M.B.Z. v. Clinton.
M.B.Z. v. Clinton is the case that the Supreme Court will hear this fall brought by Naomi and Ari Zivotofsky, American citizens who wants their young son’s U.S. passport to list his place of birth as “Jerusalem, Israel,” instead of simply “Jerusalem.” This doesn’t merely refer to East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel but considered by the U.S. government to be “occupied territory.” This is West Jerusalem, Israeli territory since the 1948 War of Independence.
Not surprising, virtually every Jewish pro-Israel group signed an amicus brief (the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists plan to submit “friend of the court” briefs due this week. Other groups including the Union of Orthodox Congregations and the National Council of Young Israel are signing on to at least one of those briefs). In the U.S. Senate more than 25 senators signed onto a brief in support of Menachem Zivotofsky. When you get Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on the same page, you know this is a no-brainer for friends of Israel.
Except, Rubin points out, the American Jewish Committee. The AJC believes that “unilateral declarations,” whether this passport dispute or the Palestinians’ planned September push for independence at the United Nations, are not the path to Middle East peace; instead, the AJC encourages these issues to be part of negotiations between the parties. As such, the AJC is staying out of the case; they’re not siding with the government, but they’re not joining any Jewish organizations’ amicus briefs.
It’s this decision that has Rubin and every anonymous left- or right-leaning professional Jew in Washington so enraged. (As a side note, JTA’s Ron Kampeas took a look at Rubin’s propensity for hyperbole in her blog post. It’s funny. You should read it.)
Rubin makes an interesting argument. When so many Jewish organizations stand together on an issue such as this, it is very noticeable that one organization remains on the sidelines. Yet this is more of a tactical mistake on the AJC’s part than an opportunity to question their motives. In fact, the AJC makes it very clear where they stand on the Jerusalem issue in general. Rubin quotes what she calls a “form letter” response from AJC’s director of media relations, Kenneth Bandler. (She’s upset that David Harris, the AJC’s executive director, who was outside of the country, didn’t return her inquires himself.) Bandler says:
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) wholeheartedly supports the indisputable principle that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and has long advocated for international recognition of that fact. The United States Supreme Court, however, is not the proper venue to resolve foreign policy issues, and that is why AJC did not join in the Zivotofsky lawsuit. AJC strongly supports congressional legislation that mandates citing Jerusalem as an Israeli city in U.S. passports.
Sounds pretty clear to me: The AJC believes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it’s something they fight for, they support the legislation in question, but they don’t think the Supreme Court is the right place for the debate. But to Rubin, it was “entirely unintelligible.”
When it comes to the case itself, Rubin and the many Jewish organizations that have filed amicus briefs are right: Americans born in Jerusalem should have the choice to list Israel as their birthplace. The law is pretty clear on that. But the AJC brings up a reasonable point: Do advocates for Israel really want the unelected Supreme Court making these decisions? Even if they decide in favor of Menachem Zivotofsky, the young boy whose passport is in question, what’s to say that in twenty years a new Supreme Court won’t make a decision that could threaten Israel?
The AJC is too worried about this potential occurrence – recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an important issue for the American Jewish community, however it is achieved – and it’s disappointing that they didn’t join the Anti-Defamation League’s brief on the case. The AJC’s mistake is a tactical one, which they ought to right. Yet is it deserving of Rubin’s anger, and should their decision result in the “damage” Rubin implies the AJC deserves to their reputation? No.