Commentary Magazine


UK: Don’t Say Western Wall or Jerusalem is in Israel

In recent years, Israel-bashing has become one of the United Kingdom’s favorite sports. Academic and trade-union boycotts of the Jewish state have flourished while anti-Israeli plays such as “My Name is Rachel Corrie” have been hits on London’s West End stages. Ironically, the growth of anti-Zionist extremism there has made the British government’s increasing hostility toward Israel looked moderate by comparison. Indeed, in a country where Israel’s right to exist is denied by most of the intelligentsia, politicians such as Conservative Party leader David Cameron are seen as “pro-Israel” because they oppose the state’s destruction even while consistently opposing its right of self-defense as well as Jewish claims to Jerusalem.

But in a country where so much of the academic and artistic community as well as a large number of mainstream politicians are so fervently opposed to Israel’s existence, it’s not surprising when such attitudes leach into government proceedings. Thus, while outrageous, it can hardly be considered a great surprise that the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned an ad by the Israel Government’s Tourist Office depicting sites from Jerusalem’s Old City on the grounds that it is fraudulent since it claimed that viewers of the ad were likely to think the places featured in its pictures were actually in the State of Israel. Since Britain doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, let alone the Old City, the agency dubbed the ad misleading.

This is, of course, nonsense. The politics of the Middle East conflict notwithstanding, anyone who visits Israel will quickly learn that, contrary to the fiction maintained by London (and other Western governments), a united Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and visitors to the country have free and easy access to all the holy sites, including Christian and Muslim shrines. Even if future “peace” deals might attempt to divide the city and rebuild the walls that divided it between 1949 and 1967 (when Jordan illegally occupied those areas now misleadingly termed “East Jerusalem”), the Old City is now firmly under Israeli jurisdiction. Any ad that attempted to portray these places as currently being under the control of any country but Israel would be misleading, not the IGTO’s inoffensive appeal to tourists. What’s going on here is a blatant attempt to inject an anti-Zionist political agenda into the business of monitoring misleading advertising. As Israel’s Tourism Ministry said in its reply, “the ad provided basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveler who wanted to know what to expect in Israel.”

Moreover, there is something profoundly offensive about a foreign government claiming that the most sacred shrine in Judaism — the Western Wall — is part of what the Guardian calls “the Palestinian occupied territories.”  Though this UK pronouncement will do little damage to Israel, it does represent the lengths to which Israel’s enemies will go in their efforts to delegitimize the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the entire country. If Britain thinks Jews have no right to call the Kotel their own, then what hope is there of convincing it that Jews have a right to live anywhere in their country?