Battle of the maps takes a new turn

The Israel Government Tourist Office has been cleared of breaching advertising standards for a promotion of Jerusalem in the latest battle over tourism publicity.

More than a half dozen complaints over adverts for Israel or the Palestinian Territories have been adjudicated by the Advertising Standards Authority over the past three years.

Only a fortnight ago, the ASA upheld a complaint against the IGTO for using "Judea and Samaria" to describe the West Bank, and implying that the Golan Heights were part of Israel.

In the latest ruling this week, the authority considered a protest from an unnamed "current affairs journalist" about a page on Jerusalem in a magazine insert, which showed a small image of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with some material about the Old Ciry below it..

The Old City is situated within East Jerusalem, which was captured in 1967, but it is not internationally recognised as part of Israel.

In its defence, the IGTO argued that tourists would not have up-to-date information on the Old City if it were not allowed to publish it - and visitors to holy sites in the Old City would be interested to know that the only access was by coming to Israel.

Two years ago the ASA caused fury within the Jewish community when it ruled against an IGTO ad which suggested that the Western Wall was in Israel. The ASA ruling, effectively, placed the wall in no-man's land.

But this time the ASA adjudication found that the text in the section of the insert dealing with the Old City "made no reference to the state of Israel, nor did it state implicitly or explicitly that all the things to do, places to eat or places to visit were in one particular state or another…

"Because we did not consider that the insert implied that all the places to visit were in the state of Israel, we concluded that the ad was not misleading."

Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, public affairs and policy director of the Board of Deputies, welcomed the ruling and the decision.

She said: "It would be ridiculous for the Israeli government not to be able to advertise its most precious gem, Jerusalem, and any part of the Old City, particularly when Israel welcomes all religions to experience the religious diversity of its historical  sites.

"It is this kind of good sense that doesn't always seem to permeate the responses to those whose complaints are politically motivated."

But last month a ruling went against the IGTO after the ASA received 350 complaints, including some from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jews for Justice for Palestine, against a newspaper advert for a book on Northern Israel.

Although the "area to which the book related was highlighted in green and the map showed border lines for the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and the West Bank," the ASA said, "we noted that those border lines were faintly produced and difficult to distinguish on the map itself."

The advert misleadingly implied "that those territories were part of the state of Israel", the watchdog said. It also referred to historical place names, such as Judea and Samaria which were not "legally recognised".

The advert was also censured for including a claim that prehistoric skeletons found in the Galilee showed that human beings developed the ability to speak there.

On this, the advertising watchdog said: "Whilst we acknowledged that the ad was not intended to be viewed as a scholarly article on the history of human speech, we were concerned that the claim presented the information as universally accepted."

Last updated: 6:31pm, April 4 2012