Guardian: We were wrong to call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital
British paper announces amendment to its style guide, but notes international community doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as capital
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
The British Guardian newspaper on Wednesday acknowledged it was wrong to call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital, but reiterated its stance that Jerusalem is not the capital either, since it is not recognized as such by the international community.
On Wednesday, a correction printed on page 29 (and online here) states that while it was justified to “make clear Israel’s designation of Jerusalem as its capital is not recognised by the international community, we accept that it is wrong to state that Tel Aviv — the country’s financial and diplomatic centre — is the capital. The style guide has been amended accordingly.”
As reported by The Times of Israel last week, the Guardian’s style guide no longer insists reporters call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital. The entry now acknowledges that the Knesset designated Jerusalem as the country’s capital, but still suggests that the holy city “should not be referred to as the capital of Israel: it is not recognised as such by the international community.”
Supporting its position, the Guardian quotes a 1980 United Nations resolution that condemned Israel’s classification of Jerusalem as its capital and declared it invalid. “Jerusalem is the seat of government and Tel Aviv is the country’s diplomatic and financial centre,” the guide states now.
“This correction is a significant achievement against a newspaper that has been a major contributor to the broader delegitimization of Israel in the UK and beyond,” said Joe Hyams, the CEO of Honest Reporting, a British pro-Israel media watchdog group that was instrumental in bringing about the Guardian’s change of attitude.
On April 22, the Guardian ran a page 27 correction apologizing for “wrongly” having called Jerusalem Israel’s capital a few days earlier. The London-based paper then stated that according to its style guide, Tel Aviv is the country’s capital. Indeed, the style guide at the time stated that designating Jerusalem as the capital is “a mistake we have made more than once.”
After the Guardian’s April correction — published after the paper ran a caption on a photo showing passengers on a train observing a two-minute silence for Holocaust Remembrance Day — Honest Reporting filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission.
The PPC, a non-governmental regulatory body which has the power to force publications to run corrections, initially defended the Guardian’s position to call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital, writing in its May ruling that “many countries” don’t recognize Israel’s classification of Jerusalem as its capital and that “those nations enjoying diplomatic relations with Israel have their embassies in Tel Aviv.” Therefore, the PCC wrote, the Guardian “was entitled to refer to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel. There was no breach of the code in this instance.”
According to Honest Reporting, whose stated mission is “defending Israel from media bias,” the London-based PCC ruling was flawed and had the “potential to further delegitimize Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, giving the British media a carte blanche to follow The Guardian’s lead.” Therefore, Honest Reporting initiated steps to file for a judicial review of the decision, leading the PCC in July to retract its original ruling and to ask the Guardian to defend their position — which culminated in Wednesday’s correction.
‘It is shocking that it has taken the threat of legal action to reverse a decision that was not based on reality’
But while the Guardian’s eventual about-face may seem like a victory for Honest Reporting, the group remains unsatisfied. In a press release published Wednesday, it criticizes the paper for not consulting with it on the correction’s exact wording. The paper “unilaterally terminated” its negotiations with Honest Reporting and the PCC, the watchdog group charged. “Honest Reporting still awaits a new ruling from the PCC to replace the faulty decision it issued in May and agreed to reconsider in July,” the statement read further.
“It is shocking that it has taken the threat of legal action to reverse a decision that was not based on reality,” Hyams said. “Nonetheless, it was vital that Honest Reporting took on the Guardian and the PCC as a matter of principle, particularly at a time when Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital is increasingly being called into question by the media.”
Hyams called on the PCC to issue a new ruling “categorically” stating that Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital, “so that it is clear to the British media that it will not be allowed to repeat this error.”
Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. On July 30, 1980, the Knesset passed the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, which declared that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”
The international community did not accept Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem: In August 1980, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 478, saying it was “deeply concerned” over the law’s enactment and declaring it “null and void.” In addition, the resolution called upon nations with diplomatic missions in Jerusalem to withdraw them from the city.
Today, there are no embassies in Jerusalem and many of Israel’s allies refuse to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying the city’s status must be determined in future negotiations with the Palestinians.