UK bans Kotel from Israeli tourism ad

Officials deem image misleading, as it is in "occupied territories."

April 15, 2010 03:55
An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man carries a prayer stan

kotel western wall praying great 512 ap. (photo credit: AP)


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Images of the Western Wall are no longer allowed in Israeli tourism ads in the UK, after regulators deemed it misleading, as it is in the “occupied territories of the West Bank.”

The Advertising Standard Agency ruled on Wednesday following a complaint that a tourism ad containing a picture of the Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock in the background misleadingly implied that east Jerusalem was part of the State of Israel, resulting in false advertising.

“We noted the ad stated, ‘You can travel the entire length of Israel in 6 hours. Imagine what you can experience in 4 days,” and, “Visit... now for more itineraries in Israel,” and considered that readers were likely to understand that the places featured in the itinerary were all within the State of Israel,” the Advertising Standard Agency said in its ruling.

“We understood, however, that the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank was the subject of much international dispute, and because we considered that the ad implied that the part of east Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the State of Israel, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead,” the ruling continued.

The Israel Government Tourist Office advertisement was held to have breached the Advertising Standard Agency’s guidelines on truthfulness.

The Tourism Ministry wrote in response that “the ad provided basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveler who wanted to know what to expect in Israel.

It also said that Israel accepted responsibility to support the religious sites of all denominations, a commitment also incorporated in an agreement with the Palestinian Authority signed in 1995. The ministry pointed out that the agreement placed the upkeep of holy sites and the determination of tourist visiting-hours under Israeli jurisdiction.

The ministry also said that the present legal status of Jerusalem had nothing to do with the point at issue. It said this was “only of relevance if there was an attempt to interpret the straightforward message of the ad in a manner that went beyond what consumers were likely to understand from the ad.”

Despite this, the Advertising Standard Agency concluded that the ad was misleading.

“The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told IGTO [the Israel Government Tourist Office] not to imply that places in the occupied territories were part of the State of Israel,” the ruling concluded.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said that to prohibit a view of east Jerusalem in a tourism ad was “absurd.”

“To proscribe even a view of east Jerusalem is as absurd as it is offensive. Thousands of tourists and pilgrims pass through Israel every year to areas where their very presence helps the Palestinian economy, and like the flawed argument for boycotts, this objection seems to be being advanced by those who care more about gestures and less about the livelihoods of ordinary people in the region,” the Board’s chief executive Jon Benjamin said.

Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov rejected the Advertising Standard Agency’s decision.

“These statements join the list of repeated attempts by anti-Israel organizations to discredit Israel’s standing using absurd claims. The ministry will continue to promote marketing and advertising campaigns that make use of historic and religious sites in order to increase tourism to Israel. Jerusalem and its many religious and historic sites is Israel’s central tourism anchor that draws millions of tourists of all religions every year, regardless of political views,” he said.

“The Tourism Ministry brands Israel as the Holy Land with Jerusalem at its heart, which beyond being the City of Peace, is the united capital of Israel,” Meseznikov said. “It is obvious to any thinking person that the Western Wall is one of Israel’s inalienable assets and as such it will continue to appear in the ministry’s campaigns. Just as nobody would dare interfere in the discretion of British state authorities on the matter of marketing Britain, the attempt to do so to Israel is illegitimate and nonnegotiable.”

In The Independent newspaper’s story on Wednesday, the reporter attached no significance to the Western Wall, describing only the importance of the Dome of the Rock.

“Images shown included the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock – the oldest Islamic building in the world, built in the seventh century. The area in east Jerusalem is at the center of a dispute between Palestinians and Jews, with more than 500,000 Jews living in the disputed territories,” The Independent reported.

“It’s very troubling to hear something like this, and it hurts very much,” Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“It’s a rewriting of of history, born out of political motives, and the [Advertising Standard Agency] is interfering with the historic connection of the Jewish people to this site. There is a line to be drawn here as well, and the government cannot be silent on this.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also had harsh words for the Advertising Standard Agency, saying in a statement, “The Kotel is the heart of the nation and State of Israel, and it will remain as such forever.”

“The statements of [the Advertising Standard Agency] embarrass [the ASA] itself, and reflect historical ignorance,” Barkat continued.

“The Jerusalem Municipality and the State of Israel will continue to publicize the important sites in Jerusalem, be they east, west or in the center of the Western Wall,” the mayor said.

Others were less surprised by the Advertising Standard Agency’s stance.

Orly Noy, from the Ir Amim organization, which works with Israelis and Palestinians toward “a stable and equitable Jerusalem,” said that “as long as the dispute over east Jerusalem is not settled, Israel is bound to find itself in awkward situations like these.

“Only an agreed upon political solution regarding the future of the city, and for that matter the wider conflict, will prevent embarrassing  developments like this,” Noy said.

“Right now, [the Advertising Standard Agency] has put Israel in a defensive position  – it’s much like the storm over building in Gilo [in southeast Jerusalem]. We know that in a future agreement, Gilo will remain under Israeli control just like the Kotel, but as long as it hasn’t been settled, we find ourselves in situations like these.

“Geographically, the Kotel is over the Green Line, and [its status] is not as obvious to the world as it is to us,” she continued. “The only way to make that clear is through an official agreement.”

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