British chutzpa

What else can explain the ban of an Israeli ad featuring the Kotel.

April 15, 2010 20:52
3 minute read.
An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man carries a prayer stan

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


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"The Temple Mount is in our hands.”  

These six words, radioed by Mordechai “Motta” Gur, commander of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade, to his commander Uzi Narkiss on the third day of the Six Day War, resonate to this day in the Israeli consciousness.

These words marked the end of 19 years of Jordanian rule, during which – in brazen disregard for Article VII of the 1949 Armistice Agreement – Jews were forbidden to visit, let alone pray at, the Western Wall. These words also signified the end of the Jewish people’s humiliating exile from its spiritual focal point.

But Gur’s call was not triumphalist. Though shocked by the revelation that Jordan had destroyed Old City synagogues and had paved roads and even latrines with Jewish tombstones from the Mount of Olives, the mood among Israelis was uplifting exuberance which led to magnanimous gestures.

Wasting no time, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol placed the holy places of Jews, Muslims and Christians under the jurisdiction of their respective clergy. Eye-patched, battle-hardened defense minister Moshe Dayan ensured that the Palestinian community and religious leaders, for the most part, remained in their prewar positions, leaving the Muslim Wakf atop the Temple Mount, a move criticized by Israeli hawks.

To this day Israel skillfully and sensitively balances the potentially explosive religious interests in Jerusalem, ensuring freedom of religious expression to all. It even forbids the prayer of Jews on the Temple Mount out of deference to Muslim sensitivities.

But Israel’s extraordinary efforts go unappreciated.

What else can explain the ban of an Israeli Tourism Ministry ad featuring the Kotel that has been issued by the British Advertising Standards Authority, an independent advertising watchdog?

The ASA determined that it was “misleading” for the Tourism Ministry to include pictures of the Western Wall in a promotional ad encouraging Britons to visit Israel:

“The ASA noted the [travel] itinerary image of Jerusalem used in the ad featured the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which were both in East Jerusalem, a part of the occupied territories of the West Bank... and considered that readers were likely to understand that the places featured in the itinerary were all within the state of Israel...The ad breached Committee of Advertising Practice Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness),” the ruling stated.

Broadcasters are obligated by a condition of their broadcast licenses to enforce ASA rulings. If they don’t, Ofcom, Britain’s communications authority, can force them to.

IRONICALLY, WHEN Palestine was under British rule, Jews suffered severe discrimination. The Mandate repeatedly caved in to Arab demands, prohibiting Jews – even the elderly and the sick – to sit on chairs near the Kotel.

On Yom Kippur 1928, women were beaten by British police when they attempted to erect a partition that separated them from men. Nor did the British take steps to stop the incitement of Jerusalem’s Mufti Amin al-Husseini, who had close ties with the Nazis.

Britain’s treatment was a continuation of centuries of discrimination against Jews – whether it was by the Crusaders or under various Muslim decrees. Thankfully, after nearly two millennia of yearning, the Jewish people have finally returned to the remnants of their destroyed spiritual center, bringing with them justice, freedom of religious expression and respect for all faiths.

As the ASA pointed out, de jure the majority of UN countries around the world do not recognize Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem. Nor do they recognize the 1980 Jerusalem Law which declared a “complete and united” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That’s why foreign embassies are generally located in Tel Aviv.

On a practical level, as the Tourism Ministry has argued in response to the ASA’s ban, it was “entirely accurate to assert [in an ad] that a visitor to Israel could visit Jerusalem as part of a short visit.”

On a more fundamental level, however, it is unadulterated chutzpa for a country like Britain, with its dismal record on protecting religious rights at the Kotel, to preach to Israel.

Through its fair treatment of all religious faiths, in such acute contrast to previous eras, Israel has strengthened its claim to continue to maintain control over the religious sites of Jerusalem’s Old City.

As for its right to sovereignty at the Kotel, that is beyond question.

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