What the Guardian can teach the Czech Ministry of Education about Israel

Following complaints from the Palestinian Ambassador to Prague, the Czech Education Ministry decided that Tel Aviv will replace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in Czech school atlases used by elementary and secondary school students. “The data in the atlas will be corrected as of the New Year,” a Prague news site quoted a Czech Education Ministry spokeswoman as saying.

When we’re asked to name some of the more egregious examples of Guardian bias against Israel, often the first incident we mention involves their record on misinforming readers about the nation’s capital.  For many years, not only did Guardian journalists refuse to acknowledge that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, but in fact told readers that Tel Aviv held that designation.  The Guardian even codified this “fact” in their official Style Guide.

Here’s the Style Guide entry for Jerusalem, from a snapshot taken in 2012.

Guardian editors even “corrected” a photo caption in 2012, which “falsely” suggested that Jerusalem was the Israeli capital. (See more background on this “correction” here.)

Just to be clear: The Guardian wasn’t merely telling readers that most in the international community don’t officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and that most countries locate their embassy – for political reasons involving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – in Tel Aviv. They were being completely untruthful in claiming that Tel Aviv was in fact Israel’s capital.  Of course, as anyone knows, regardless of the official status of the city, Jerusalem is where the Israeli seat of government is located, including the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court.

However, it wasn’t until action by a media watchdog forced the Guardian to back down and acknowledge (in an official correction) that they were wrong to say that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.  They don’t now say that Jerusalem is the capital, but now acknowledge in their revised Style Guide that Jerusalem is the seat of government, and no longer claim that Tel Aviv is the capital. Indeed, we recently prompted a correction when a Guardian journalist initially implied that Tel Aviv was the capital. 

When you consider the Guardian’s historic hostility to Israel, especially back then, their decision to back down implicitly represented an acknowledgement that – regardless of their views on the issue – it is simply impossible to honestly defend the proposition that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.

Again, this was in 2012.

However, it now seems that Guardian editors may need to hold a master class on Israel for officials at the Czech Ministry of Education.

What we’re referring to are recent reports that, following complaints from the Palestinian Ambassador to Prague, the Czech Education Ministry decided that Tel Aviv will replace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in Czech school atlases used by elementary and secondary school students. “The data in the atlas will be corrected as of the New Year,” a Prague news site quoted a Czech Education Ministry spokeswoman as saying. 

The spokeswoman went on to say that her country views “Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, i.e. the State of Israel and the future State of Palestine”, referring to the possibility that the a future peace agreement will render ‘west’ Jerusalem part of Israel, and ‘east’ Jerusalem part of the new Palestinian state.  

However, almost all Israeli government buildings are already located in ‘west’ Jerusalem (the portion of Jerusalem that was part of Israel since 1949).  So, the Czech Education Ministry could have simply characterized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or otherwise acknowledged (as the Guardian did) that Israel considers Jerusalem its capital, but that it this is disputed – and that it’s the official Czech position that the city should eventually be split and become both the Israeli and Palestinian capitals.

Regardless of how official government ministries – or media outlets – around the word decide to characterize the current status of Jerusalem in the context of their future vision for the region, to tell millions of students that Tel Aviv is in fact currently Israel’s capital is a categorical lie.  

It’s actually pretty astonishing that the Guardian is now more accurate about the respective statuses of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv than the government of the Czech Republic.

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