Why do so many journalists peddle the lie that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel?

Why do so many journalists erroneously claim or suggest that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital?

This question is inspired by years of repeatedly prompting corrections at various media outlets – some, interestingly, not unfriendly to Israel – to this same error. The latest example involves an article at the Independent (‘Uber’s car-sharing service banned in Israel in latest legal setback for taxi firm, Nov. 27) by Ben Chapman. 

The claim can be seen in our tweet to the Indy journalist.

Yesterday, we complained to Indy editors about the error, and the sentence was amended this morning. The words in the sentence “in the Israeli capital” was replaced with “in Tel Aviv”.

It has been argued by some that passages like the one above are not in fact misleading, as most foreign embassies are in indeed located in Tel Aviv. However, foreign governments place their embassies in Tel Aviv, not because they believe it is the Israeli capital, but because of diplomatic considerations related to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  Of course, journalists are not bound by such diplomatic considerations, but by journalistic ethics (in the UK, the Editors’ Code) which demand that they avoid misleading readers and publishing erroneous information. 

The fact is that Israel designates Jerusalem as its capital.

As a Daily Mail correction last week prompted by this blog stated:

“While foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv, Israel designates Jerusalem as its capital“.

Whilst explicitly claiming that ‘Tel Aviv is the capital’ is one form of the error, more often journalists will make the claim more implicitly, by simply using Tel Aviv as a metonym for the capital, as we see in this passage in a Times of London article in November (later corrected).

But, even such implicit claims are equally misleading because, regardless of how any editor or journalist feels about Israel’s designation of its capital, the fact is that Israel’s seat of government (including the Knesset, Supreme Court, Prime Minister’s Office and most government ministries) is located in Jerusalem.  Decisions of the Israeli government almost always come from officials in Jerusalem.  Using Tel Aviv in this context as shorthand for the capital runs contrary to the most basic journalistic demands involving the “Where” in the Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Unsurprisingly, one of the more egregious example of such misinformation was found at the Guardian in 2012, when the readers’ editor actually amended a photo caption which initially had (“wrongly”) stated that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital.

Yes, they were truly telling journalists, in their official Style Guide, that Tel Aviv IS the capital of Israel.

However, shortly after that “correction”, the Guardian was forced to amend their Style Guide when the Press Complaints Commission (precursor to Independent Press Standards Organisation) ruled that it is wrong to tell readers that Tel Aviv is the capital.

In 2015, the BBC similarly ‘corrected‘ a report which “falsely” claimed that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital.

Also noteworthy in the genre of editorial somersaults to avoid dealing with the issue of Jerusalem was a 2015 BBC Weather report in which Jerusalem was the only city that wasn’t paired with a country. Instead, the word “null” appeared where the country should have been.

Though British news outlets including the Guardian will almost always correct such false claims when we bring it to their attention, they still usually refuse to write the word “Jerusalem” in this context. So, if a passage originally claimed that “Tel Aviv decided….”, the correction will not say “Jerusalem decided….”, but rather “Israel decided…”.

Here’s an example, in a recent UKMW prompted correction at the Guardian.

So, what motivates such obfuscations?

It’s complicated, but we believe that journalists who make such errors generally fall into two categories:

  1. Genuine Ignorance: those who truly believe that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital.
  2. Ideology: those who know on some level that Tel Aviv is not the capital of Israel and that Jerusalem is the seat of government and Israel’s designated capital, but they operate within a media echo chamber which believes that journalists acknowledging such facts are parroting the pro-Israeli view of the conflict.

The second category is much more worrisome than the first, as it represents a broader UK media pattern of what we call ‘advocacy journalism’: the belief held by many reporters that they have a moral duty (in the spirit of ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the powerful’) to advocate on behalf of Palestinians and give credence to their narrative, a duty which transcends their ethical responsibilities as professional journalists to be objective and tell the truth.  

This distorted understanding of their professional responsibilities, we believe, more than any other single factor, drives such falsehoods about Tel Aviv, and media bias and inaccurate reporting about Israel more broadly.

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38 replies »

  1. Adam when you write, “..the belief held by many reporters that they have a moral duty..” then continue “..their ethical responsibilities as professional journalists to be objective and tell the truth.”
    Which is the media outlet, anywhere in the World, which employs reporters who have any sense of morality and journalists who are professional, objective and tell the truth?
    If you believe these mythical creatures exist, I have some shares in a bridge in Brooklyn you might like to buy.

  2. The moment someone refers to ‘illegal’ settlements, you know they are a sick dreg.
    The Independent, of course, is utter pondscum with a vile agenda.

  3. What we need is a campaign to remind print and broadcast journalists on a weekly basis that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. I’m prepared to take on that responsibility if some can provide me with their email addresses.

  4. If a media source sites Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I have a feeling they’ll get a lot more grief from the billion plus assholes who hate Israel and Zionism and Jews (for that matter) than the 10 million Jews who are currently offended.

    Side note, maybe a bit off topic, but related. When I see a world map detailing issues in Europe and/or the Middle East, the country of Israel is not named by label. They will identify Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, but they will not identify Israel. I’ve seen it on weather maps. I’ve seen it when detailing the movement of ISIS. This is the same mentality.

    Informally recognizing Israel’s existence is still an issue.

    • “..the Republic of Ireland is about to ” designate” Ulaan Baatar as its capital.”
      That is good news Stephen.
      Dublin is overcrowded with tourists and the price of a pint of Guinness is extortionate.

    • Oh? Maybe you should tell Palestinians that Israelis now claim Timbuktu as their capital. It would be amusing to see Palestinians claim that they were there first.

  5. There was an old joke amongst jazz musicians in the early days of rock music that went like this: “Rock is made up of 3 chords, two of which are wrong.”
    Mahmoud Abbas keeps saying that Jerusalem is the home of two great religions, one of which is wrong. But no one seems to really care.

  6. If the Guardian is going to tell you that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital they might as well tell you Jeremy Corbyn is not the head of the Labour Party, he’s the head of the Torries, and Princess Diana’s secret love child, and has been having a torrid affair for years with Ken Livingston, who is Hitler’s daughter. (That last part might actually be correct.)

  7. Since when must UK journalists accept and obey the Israeli government’s illegal claims and falsehoods? Israel is a creature of the UN and the League of Nations – it owes its existence to decisions made by the international community which has maintained for half a century that East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are occupied territory and subject to international law. The 1967 UN security council resolution no. 242 calls for the “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Sinai was returned to Egypt but elsewhere in those occupied territories, which include East Jerusalem, there have been 50 years of duplicity, land-theft, water-theft, torture, oppression and massively disproportionate acts of military aggression. Trump has now endorsed the ethnic-cleansing of East Jerusalem house by house by Jewish racists/supremacists…and so much more. Trump is a bigot and he gets on best with bigots.

    • manfred when you cherry-pick from Resolutions you run the risk of someone pointing out the parts of the Resolution you ‘conveniently’ forgot to mention.
      You are correct that part of Resolution 242 1 (i) does indeed call for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces, but you ‘conveniently’ or otherwise forgot to mention that it goes on,
      “1 (ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;”

      So I take it that you accept the right of Israel to ‘live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”? Or are you still cherry-picking?

      The same Resolution goes on to state,

      “2. Affirms further the necessity

      (c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;”

      So I take it that you will support the “establishment of demilitarized zones” to stop the firing of mortars and rockets into Israel and the launching of terrorist attacks into Israel? Or, again are you still cherry-picking?

  8. Why does anyone expect the ‘news media’ {aka dis-information bureaus} – or ‘politicians’ – or most of the citizens from any country to believe or say anything favorable about “ISRAEL” – or the “JEWISH” people – or their God Given Eternal Homeland?
    – For “the certainty of the words of truth” were written some 3,000 years ago by King David in the Capital – “JERUSALEM, ISRAEL” in Psalm 109:2-3 [AV] :
    “For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me:
    they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
    They compassed me about also with words of hatred;
    and fought against me without a cause.”