UK media watchdog rules: Tel Aviv is not the capital

Monday’s decision by oversight committee decides debate over Guardian apology for ‘wrongly’ giving Jerusalem the title

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Guardian offices in London (CC-BY WordRidden, Flickr)
The Guardian offices in London (CC-BY WordRidden, Flickr)

The UK Press Complaints Commission ruled Monday that a British paper was wrong to refer to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, settling a dispute over the issue in the British media.

The case had been debated since April, when the London-based newspaper the Guardian apologized for naming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and stated instead that Tel Aviv was the capital.

In Monday’s decision, the PCC concluded that “the unequivocal statement that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel had the potential to mislead readers and raised a breach of… the Editors’ Code of Practice.”

The editor’s code states that the press “must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.”

The PPC is a non-governmental regulatory body which has the power to force publications to run corrections.

“The ruling set a precedent on British coverage of Israel, effectively barring all British publications from referring to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital,” Honest Reporting, the British pro-Israel media watchdog group  behind the complaint to the PCC, declared in a statement released Tuesday.

‘Fatuous claims over the status of Tel Aviv as a means to delegitimize Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital will no longer be acceptable’

“Fatuous claims over the status of Tel Aviv as a means to delegitimize Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital will no longer be acceptable,” said the group’s CEO, Joe Hyams.

On Friday, the Daily Mail ran a correction of an August 23 article that “mistakenly suggested” that the Israeli government was based in Tel Aviv, “when it is, of course, in Jerusalem.”

The controversy started on April 22, when the Guardian ran a correction apologizing for “wrongly” having called Jerusalem Israel’s capital a few days earlier in a caption beneath a photo showing passengers on a Jerusalem train observing a two-minute silence for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In the correction, the paper stated that according to the Guardian’s style guide Tel Aviv was the country’s capital. Indeed, the guide at the time stated that designating Jerusalem as the capital is “a mistake we have made more than once.” In response, Honest Reporting filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission.

The commission initially defended the Guardian’s decision to call Tel Aviv Israel’s capital, ruling in May that “many countries” don’t recognize Jerusalem as the 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.”

Unhappy with the ruling, Honest Reporting, whose stated mission is “defending Israel from media bias,” 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. On August 8, the paper ran another correction, accepting “that it is wrong to state that Tel Aviv — the country’s financial and diplomatic centre — is the capital.”

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s “eternal capital” in 1949, after Israeli forces captured the city’s western sector. But that wasn’t recognized by much of the international community, as the United Nations had intended for the city to be an internationally governed territory not part of either the Jewish or Arab states created by the 1947 decision to partition Palestine.

After capturing the eastern side of the city in 1967 and annexing it, Israel declared the united city to be its capital in 1980.

The international community did not accept the move, and 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 foreign embassies in Jerusalem. Many of Israel’s allies refuse to recognize Jerusalem as the capital, saying the city’s status must be determined in future negotiations with the Palestinians.

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