David Harris, AJC Executive Director
April 19, 2010
The Advertising Standards Authority, Britain's independent regulator of advertising in the media, recently criticized Israel for - shock of shocks - including a photo of the Western Wall in a tourism advertisement placed in British newspapers.
It asserted that Israel had no right to do so because the Western Wall is technically in East Jerusalem, and Israel cannot claim authority over land there. It is, therefore, "misleading," the ASA said, for Israel to suggest that the Western Wall is as much a part of the Jewish state as the beaches of Tel Aviv, also featured in the same ad.
The ruling implies that the Western Wall - which, as the last remaining relic of the Second Temple, represents Judaism's holiest site - should either be erased from future ad campaigns or designated as "occupied territory."
Perhaps this decision was driven by malice aforethought, especially given the current open season on Israel in important segments of the United Kingdom (the media, academia, trade unions, etc.). Or maybe not. Either way, it once again makes friends of Israel wonder about the motives of those who assail it from every imaginable direction.
If the Western Wall isn't an integral part of Israel, in fact emblematic of the country's very soul, then what is? No conceivable peace agreement with the Palestinians could exclude it from Israeli authority.
The BBC, reporting on this story, referred antiseptically to Jerusalem's Old City, "which was under Jordanian rule from 1948 until the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, when Israel occupied the eastern side of Jerusalem...."
Not for the first time, the BBC failed to mention a few salient facts.
First, dating back 3000 years to the time of King David, who made Jerusalem the Jewish people's capital, the city had never before been divided.
Moreover, the city - not some stunted version of it, but the city as a whole - embodies the very essence of the millennia-long Jewish journey.
Take Psalm 122, for example: "Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem." Or Psalm 137: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." Or the closing words of the Passover Seder: "Next year in Jerusalem."
In how many other countries is there such an interwoven connection between the metaphysical and the physical, the ancient and the modern, the spiritual and the sovereign?
Furthermore, Jordan's 19-year rule of the Old City, including the Jewish Quarter where the Western Wall is located, was a travesty.
As the actual history of that period of Jordanian rule is not well known, let me quote at some length from a letter by Yosef Tekoah, Israel's ambassador to the UN, addressed to UN Secretary-General U Thant. It was written in 1968, when Israel was led by the left-of-center Labor Party:
"It was Jordan which, in defiance of the United Nations Charter, attacked the City [Jerusalem] in 1948, placed it under siege, and opened indiscriminate fire on its inhabitants and on its historical and religious sites.
"It was the Jordan Government which then relentlessly set about destroying the Jewish Quarter, including its synagogues and places of learning and the venerated Cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
"The inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter were uprooted, transformed overnight into refugees and forcibly prevented from returning to the homes inhabited by themselves and their ancestors.
"It was Jordan which prevented free access to the Jewish Holy Places and the cultural and humanitarian institutions on Mount Scopus, in flagrant violation of its international obligations solemnly undertaken.
"In the Jewish Quarter, all but one of the thirty-five houses of worship that graced the Old City of Jerusalem were found to have been wantonly destroyed. The synagogues had been razed or pillaged and stripped, and their interiors used as hen-houses and stables.
"In the ancient historic Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives, tens of thousands of tombstones had been torn up, broken into pieces or used as flagstones, steps and building materials in Jordanian military installations and civilian constructions. Large areas of the cemetery had been leveled and converted into parking places and petrol-filling stations."
And finally, since the city was reunited in 1967, following a war foisted upon Israel by blood-curdling threats from Cairo and Damascus to destroy the country, the holy sites of all three monotheistic faiths - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism - have been scrupulously respected and protected.
That policy was enshrined into Israeli law within weeks of Jerusalem's reunification: "The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to these places." It remains the case to this day.
I don't know exactly where the final borders of any peace deal will be drawn, should the Palestinians, after more than six decades of the politics of "no," eventually embrace Israel's outstretched hand of peace. I do know that the Western Wall will always be part of the State of Israel. It couldn't be any other way.
Surely, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority can make better use of its time than to degrade the sacred with such a profane attack.
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