I have just marked the 33rd anniversary of my emigration from – how should I put this diplomatically? – the seat of British government. I’m trying to be sensitive here. I’ve always thought of London as the capital of the United Kingdom, and so probably have most readers, but I don’t want to upset anyone who has a problem with that. Certainly not during the Olympics, that period of the brotherhood of man and sporting spirit, or what passes for it in the age of the global village and global jihad.
I wasn’t always so capital conscious, but the question of what to call major cities has been put on my radar courtesy of the BBC. Writing for a paper which under the British Mandate was known as The Palestine Post and only became The Jerusalem Post after senior editors internalized the true meaning of independence, I’m pleased that the capital of Israel wasn’t wiped off the map before now.
“Mind the gap” announces the famous taped voice at London Underground stations. Metaphorically, as an ex-Londoner, I feel I’m not so much negotiating a gap as trying to breach an ever-widening rift while the train is still moving.
A week ago, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev wrote a letter of complaint to the director of the BBC’s bureau in Israel noting that on its website’s list of countries participating in the Olympics, Israel – alone among the nations – has no mention of a capital. Palestine, on the other hand, which does not yet technically exist under international law, appeared on the site with “East Jerusalem” as its capital city.
“I am dismayed by the BBC’s decision to discriminate against Israel on the BBC’s Olympic website,” Regev wrote, adding: “Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, and accordingly we respectfully request the immediate rectification of this matter.”
In the days when the British Broadcasting Corporation ruled the airwaves and Britain ruled the waves that lapped on the shores of an empire, the BBC was considered the bastion of truth and objectivity. Those days are long gone. It failed to take the letter to heart, or maybe it failed to find its heart. In any case, it merely changed the listing for Israel so that Jerusalem appeared as the “seat of government,” with the proviso that “most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.”
The “Palestine” entry was also updated. (Bias? Perish the thought.) “East Jerusalem” became Palestine’s “intended seat of government” and Ramallah “the administrative capital.” Palestine, by the way, is recognized, according to the website, as “a competing [Olympic] country by the IOC [International Olympic Committee] but is not recognized as a modern state.”
The BBC’s refusal to rectify the listings led Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to issue a statement saying: “Throughout the history of Jerusalem, with over a dozen conquerors, only the Jewish people have called the Holy City of Jerusalem our capital. Jerusalem today, under Israeli sovereignty, has returned to the role it played 2,000-3,000 years ago. There is unprecedented freedom of movement and religion and the world is welcome and encouraged to enjoy the beauty and majesty of Jerusalem.
“We will not accept those who deny our history, our sovereignty, and our right to determine our own capital. Irrespective of the BBC’s political agenda, Jerusalem was, is, and will always be the capital of Israel and the spiritual, political, and physical center of the Jewish people.”
I still remember when, where and how the future “Palestine” burst onto the Olympic scene – and it was not to the sound of a starter’s pistol. That’s why, in addition to the BBC’s sudden deletion of my capital city and home, I feel personally slighted by the IOC’s refusal to hold a moment of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at Munich 40 years ago.
The Munich Massacre, as I have often noted, was the trigger for my aliya – the moment I realized that, as a Jew, my fate was tied to Israel’s wherever I might be and hence I might as well be in the Jewish state.
Occasionally, non-Israelis express surprise that a terror attack could actually cause someone to move to the country which is still under constant threat. It’s hard to explain, but obviously the move to Israel is an emotional one. I can give lots of rational reasons for staying, but the decision to make aliya came from the heart, not the mind.
I am proud of my British past – but even prouder of my decision to make Israel my present and future.
I felt one of those particularly painful moments of pride in my country a week ago following the suicide bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis (and a local tour bus driver). Within hours, Israel had organized a rescue mission with a medical team to treat the wounded and volunteers carrying out the ultimate altruistic mitzva of collecting and identifying body parts so that the dead could be speedily buried in holy soil.
According to Magen David Adom director Eli Bin, there was “thunderous applause” when the MDA and army rescue teams entered the Burgas Airport terminal to help take the survivors home. As a friend noted, “Imagine how they felt. All of a sudden, amid the trauma and chaos, Israeli army officers and doctors came and showed they cared.”
“It’s not always pleasant to be Israeli, but this is a country that knows, within 24 hours, how to bring back all of her wounded and injured from every place in the world. That makes it a little easier,” Brig.-Gen.
Dr. Itzik Kreiss told a press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport on July 19, after he had accompanied the return of the first flight of victims.
Of course, Israelis would prefer that attacks like this one didn’t happen at all – but that’s unlikely as long as there are those who question our right to exist, our desire to live in peace, and our millennia-old commitment to Jerusalem, Zion, as our capital.
I admit that what passes as normal life here seems surreal to the average Brit – even when their self-styled capital is crawling with security personnel because of the threats that accompany the Games. My “to do” list includes picking up gas masks from the distribution point in the local shopping mall; I can conveniently collect the kits that are meant to protect us in the event of nuclear, biological or chemical warfare at the same time as I buy some sunscreen for a trip to the pool or beach.
I’m writing these lines ahead of the opening ceremonies and earliest stages of the Games, which I won’t watch. It’s not a personal boycott: The start of the Olympics clashes with Shabbat and Tisha Be’av, the day on which we – still – mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, more than 2,000 years after they were lost; when London, dare I point out, was barely an outpost. (Can one even use the words outpost or settlement unless it’s as a denigration of Israel?) I’m planning to be in London (or Londinium, as the Romans called it) later this summer to celebrate my nephew’s marriage. Under the wedding canopy, he will recite, like Jewish grooms, everywhere, throughout the centuries: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem...”
It’s said as an act of faith, not a political statement. And with all due respect from a proud Israeli doda to Auntie, as the BBC is fondly known, “If I forget thee, O seat of government...” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Particularly not in the language of the Bible.
The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.firstname.lastname@example.org