Czechs Backtrack, School Atlas to Keep Jerusalem as Israel's Capital

The education ministry previously said it pull the books from the classroom after the Palestinian ambassador's complaint.

Jerusalem's Temple Mount and Western Wall on May 5, 2015.
Gil Cohen-Magen

A school atlas that labels Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will not be removed from Czech schools after all.

The Czech education ministry said last week that the atlas would be removed following a complaint by the Palestinian ambassador in Prague. But on Tuesday night, Education Minister Katerina Valachova told Czech Radio that Israel's capital won't be changed to Tel Aviv in the textbooks.

The school atlases would portray reality, stated Valachova. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital from the viewpoint of the declaration of the country to which this relates, which means Israel,” she said in the radio interview, reported the Prague Daily Monitor on Tuesday. “If there is a sentence relating to all of the international steps, I believe that this fact will not offend either side.”

The atlas has a valid certificate for textbooks until 2017 and the ministry will not interfere with it, Valachova said. She added that both sides that were vocal in the dispute should realize that it was not the task of the ministry to be involved in politics.

“Jerusalem is on the map!” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in a statement Wednesday, adding, “Truth has indeed overcome lies.”

He also said: “I’m thankful to the Czech government for making the right choice and for refusing to surrender to Palestinian incitement and lies.

Barkat said the friendship between the Czech and Jewish peoples has deep and historical roots.

“Future generations of Czech students will continue to learn the truth: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the heart and soul of the Jewish people,” he wrote.

The atlas, first published by the Czech firm Shocart in 2004, was approved by the ministry for use in Czech elementary and secondary schools in 2011. However, after the envoy’s complaint, the ministry said it would demand the publisher alter the labeling to show Tel Aviv as the capital, according to a report last week by the Czech newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes.

The Czech Republic does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital pending a comprehensive peace agreement and maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv, like most other Western nations.

On Sunday Barkat wrote a letter to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka calling on him to revoke the decision.

Czech Jews had organized a protest for Wednesday in Prague.

Whether the atlas will keep Jerusalem as the Israel's capital in future editions once the existing certificate expires next year is a different question. Karel Krsak, CEO of the publishing firm, told CTK that in the application for a new certificate, the firm would respect the recommendation by the Education Ministry.

“I have been to Israel several times. It is a sovereign country, and I think it is up to them to decide what their capital is. I believe we should respect that,” Krsak said last week. “But we are going to apply to renew the ministry’s approval in a month’s time, and we’ll make the change, even if it is something I personally don’t agree with,” he added.

The status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been disputed in the international community, and most United Nations member states do not recognize it as the capital.