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Where Is Jerusalem?

A question everybody and nobody wants to answer

Marc Tracy
July 27, 2011

NEW YORK — In the fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case concerning a 2002 law that established Israel as the country of birth of people born in Jerusalem for passport purposes. The legal questions involved have little to do with the status of Jerusalem. Rather, the Court will consider whether Congress’ law conflicts with the executive branch’s constitutional authority to make foreign policy, as well as whether it is the judicial branch’s place to adjudicate this dispute, which may never have existed had President George W. Bush not signed the law and then added a signing statement declaring he would ignore it.

Israel considers Jerusalem its undivided capital, having annexed those parts of it east of the Green Line following the Six Day War. But no countries have their embassies there due to the sensitive nature of the topic; the CIA World Factbook states that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, while noting that the U.S. embassy is in Tel Aviv. “The United States’ consistent policy has been to recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem, leaving the issue to be decided by negotiation between the parties to the Arab-Israeli dispute,” the administration’s brief, which argued that the Court should not hear the case, said. Congress’ involvement in the issue “would critically compromise the United States’ ability to help further the Middle East peace process,” it added. So no help there. Where to turn?

In Miracle on 34th Street (spoiler alert!), Kris Kringle’s attorney proves his case by demonstrating that a branch of the federal government ( the U.S. Postal Service) forwarded his client letters addressed to Santa Claus, implicitly endorsing his client’s claim that, in fact, he is the real thing. Of course, it’s the federal government that is divided here, so I had to contact a yet higher authority to resolve the question of where Jerusalem is. I chose the Associated Press. But they have a clever dodge in place, too! You see, Jerusalem is one of 49 non-U.S. cities (46 if you don’t count Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City as cities) that, according to the latest AP Stylebook, does not require a clarifying country in its bylines. If you are writing from Tel Aviv, your piece is to be datelined, “TEL AVIV, Israel.” From Jerusalem? Just, “JERUSALEM.” In many of the cases, the clarifying country is pretty clearly left out because it is unnecessary: Most readers don’t need to be told which countries “BEIJING,” “ROME,” or indeed “KUWAIT CITY” are in. But I wonder if the inclusion of Jerusalem, coupled with the exclusion of Tel Aviv, isn’t a shrewd posture of neutrality. The AP is kicking the question of Jerusalem down the road. You know, just like everybody else.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.