BBC referred to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel 16 times since promising to stop error

The corporation pledged in January last year to avoid what critics have called a 'politicised' error


Ultra Orthodox Jewish men walk past the Israeli flags, outside the Knesset, Israel's Parliament in Jerusalem. March 17, 2010. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90. *** Local Caption *** ??????? ???? ????? ??? ????? ????

The BBC’s Arabic service has repeatedly referred to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel rather than Jerusalem, despite having promised to avoid what critics have called a “politicised” error.

The broadcaster has made the mistake on 16 occasions since it made the pledge in January 2021.

Media-monitoring organisation CAMERA Arabic had collated 12 previous instances from before that time.

The BBC acknowledged to the watchdog: “The Israeli government should not be referred to in our output as ‘Tel Aviv’.”

It is a common journalistic practice to use a nation’s capital city to denote its centre of government.

Some critics of Israel have disputed the legitimacy of Jerusalem as the country’s capital. However, the city is the site of the Knesset and all the main arms of government.

In an email sent to CAMERA, seen by the JC, the BBC acknowledged previous instances of the mistake in its Arabic-language output, promising it had corrected them and taken “internal action with the journalist who edited the piece”. The corporation also claimed to have reminded “all staff” about its impartiality guidelines.

CAMERA has since identified continued, repeated occurrences of the same mistake. In many cases the BBC’s articles correctly refer to other countries using their capital cities, while referring to Israel as “Tel Aviv”, suggesting a blind spot when it comes to the Jewish state.

Critics say in doing so the BBC is breaking its commitment to adhere to its own impartiality guidelines by making an alleged “politicised error.”

The BBC incorrectly used Tel Aviv to refer to Israel in a wide variety of news stories, including reports on Gulf-Israel relations, Israeli plans to allocate billions of dollars to improving conditions for Arabs in the country, Israeli supplying water to Jordan, Israeli relations with Bahrain and Israel’s investigation into the Lag Ba’Omer stampede in Meron.

In January, the BBC published a report mentioning dealings between Morocco and Israel, referencing “relations between Rabat and Tel Aviv”. In an article last month about diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel, the BBC referred to Israel’s government as Tel Aviv five times, including a reference to “a Turkish desire to send messages to Tel Aviv”.

A separate report the same month described Turkish actions towards Israel and Egypt, correctly referring to the Egyptian government as Cairo but once again using Tel Aviv to describe Israel’s.

In another report describing a Houthi attack on the UAE, the BBC once again used Tel Aviv to indicate Israel’s government, and again in a report which claimed the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot had “quoted Tel Aviv sources” to indicate government sources. Elsewhere, reporting on Libyan politics the BBC captioned a photograph claiming “Khalifa Haftar’s son recently visited Israel in search of Tel Aviv’s support for his father in the elections”.

Jerusalem has never been the capital city of any sovereign nation other than Israel and has been a focal point of Jewish life since 1003 BCE when King David made it the capital of his kingdom. It remained the capital until the kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians 400 years later. Under British rule from 1922 to 1948, Jerusalem was the seat of the High Commissioner and most administrative offices of the Mandate. Most institutions of the growing Jewish community based themselves in the city.

Jerusalem was partitioned from 1948 to 1967. After reunification in 1967, the old city was opened to people of all faiths and in 1980 Israel passed the “Basic Law: Jerusalem”, reaffirming its status as its capital. The US moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.

A spokesman for CAMERA Arabic told the JC: “The fact that BBC Arabic staff have repeated this error 16 times since they publicly pledged not to, shows they do not take seriously their responsibility to be impartial and accurate. It is yet another example of BBC management’s lack of adequate oversight over content in foreign languages, and Arabic in particular. Deliberately used by many in the Arab world to suggest that Israel has no claim over its capital city of Jerusalem, this is a politicised error.”

After the JC asked the BBC to comment, it corrected the errors highlighted.

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