On BBC's Olympics Website, Jerusalem Is the Capital of Palestine

Website lists Israel as having no capital while recognizing East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital; Netanyahu protests, opens Facebook page to pressure the BBC to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Historically, relations between Israeli governments and the British Broadcasting Corporation have never been superlative. Criticism by the network’s correspondents and editors of Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has vexed several Israeli prime ministers, foreign ministers and spokesmen. The standard Israeli charge has been that the network suffers from an extremely negative imbalance when it comes to coverage of Israel.

In the past few days, a new source of tension has arisen against the background of the special website set up by the BBC ahead of the London Olympics. The site includes a page devoted to each of the countries taking part in the Olympic Games: Each page contains details about the athletes, the country’s record in past Olympics and a few basic facts such as population size and capital city.

A few days ago, the Prime Minister's Office was informed that Israel’s page on the BBC’s Olympic website included no reference to the country's capital city. The raised eyebrows in Netanyahu’s bureau were soon supplanted by genuine anger when staffers noticed that on the page devoted to Palestine on the BBC site, East Jerusalem is listed as itscapital city.

In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign press and public affairs adviser Mark Regev sent a letter of protest to the director of the BBC’s bureau in Israel, Paul Danahar. In the letter, a copy of which reached Haaretz, Regev writes that he is “dismayed by the BBC's decision to discriminate against Israel on the BBC's Olympic website."

Regev wrote to the BBC bureau chief that “every country (and non-country) participating in the London 2012 games has been given a page on your website with background information about the country, including mention of the capital city. Every country (and non-country), except Israel. Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel, and accordingly we respectfully request the immediate rectification of this matter.”

As part of the campaign to have the BBC Olympics website corrected, Netanyahu's bureau has opened a special Facebook page through which it seeks to enlist supporters to exert pressure on the BBC. 

Update: Following Mark Regev’s letter, the BBC altered Israel’s page on the website such that under the heading “Seat of government,” the following sentence appears: “Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian page now lists East Jerusalem as the "Intended seat of government" adding that "Ramallah serves as administrative capital."

Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office praised the move as a step in the right direction, but said they would still demand that the site list Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Michal Fattal