The BBC isn’t sure whether Israel has a capital. White House Spokesperson Jay Carney refuses to name a capital. U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney says the capital is Jerusalem. Most countries locate their embassies in Tel Aviv. Why so much fuss when international law is clear on the matter? A country’s capital is what the country says it is. In this case, Israeli law says Jerusalem is the capital; therefore, Jerusalem is the capital.
The BBC, in its website coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, has reconsidered its outright failure to list any city as a capital for Israel. The website features a profile of each state participating in the Olympics. Each state’s profile lists facts such as the state’s capital, population, land size, languages, and top medaled Olympic sports. Originally, the entire “capital” entry was missing from Israel’s page, and it was the only state (or non-state) allegedly without one.
After protest from the Israeli government and public outcry, the BBC has modified Israel’s page to state: “Seat of government: Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv.” Israel continues to protest the “seat of government” designation.
On the other hand, the BBC initially listed “East Jerusalem” as the “capital of Palestine” on Palestine’s profile page. The modified version now states: “Intended seat of government: East Jerusalem. Ramallah serves as administrative capital.” A further clarification was added vis-à-vis Palestine’s lack of statehood: “Palestine is recognised as a competing country by the IOC [International Olympic Committee] but is not recognised as a modern state.” Palestine first competed in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
The objectivity of such journalists should be called into question after this obviously political presentation of “facts.” Likewise, what does the BBC term, “seat of government,” mean that “capital” does not? What makes a place an “administrative capital”? Why are these semantic games relevant to the Olympic games? Indiscriminate use of undefined terms simply confuses the issues further for a non-legal audience.
The BBC news website’s raison d’être is reporting news based on facts, not promoting a political agenda through something as purposely nonpolitical as the Olympics. The Olympic Charter explicitly forbids political discrimination in the Olympics: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement” [emphasis added]. This anti-discrimination policy is considered a “fundamental principle” of the Olympics, yet the BBC is discriminating against Israel based on politics. Of course, the charter does not govern the BBC, but their behavior flies in the face of what the Olympics stands for and is detrimental to the global brotherhood it is intended to foster. According to the Charter, the “Olympic spirit …requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
The failure of the BBC to list Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in contravention of international law, is a symptom of lawfare, the use of law as a weapon of war. The concentrated effort to use lawfare attacks against Israel has legitimized a “news” outlet stating political positions as facts. When you repeat lies, they begin to take on the appearance of truth. Proponents of delegitimizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital do not even mention international customary law or legal norms, while denying the realities on the ground without any legal basis. When a news outlet as highly reputable as the BBC picks up that argument “inadvertently” without any legal or factual investigation, it is a victory for lawfare proponents.
International customary law recognizes the undisputed right of a sovereign government to choose the site of its capital. It is not the BBC’s place or right to reject this right. In doing so, the organization has ignored both facts and legal norms. International customary law is a primary source of international law, and can be determined in two ways: (1) the general practice of states and (2) what states have generally accepted as the law.
The ability of a state to choose its capital is such an obvious fact that little has been written about it, much less its being codified as a statute. We take it for granted that a basic right of being a country is the ability to choose its capital, just as a sovereign state has the right to write its own constitution or pass its own laws.
History confirms that this right is not just a norm; it is so assumed that it is taken for granted. States establish or move their capitals without protest or external intervention because other nations accept this as a state’s natural right. This process continues even today. For example, Burma chose to move its capital with only five months’ notice in 2005, apparently based on political fears and/or “soothsayer” prophecies. While condemned as “totally irrational” by experts, no one claimed that Burma didn’t have the right to move its capital. Last year, South Sudan, a newly declared state, chose its capital, Ramciel, without international fanfare because establishing a capital is just “what you do” after you declare independence. Even Iran has been considering moving its capital since 2009, even though Tehran has been its capital since 1795. Unfortunately, Tehran, the largest city in the Middle East, sits uncomfortably close to at least 100 fault lines, and the city may not survive a major earthquake. No one questions the rights of these sovereign governments to make internal decisions regarding the location of their capitals because it doesn’t even occur to them to question it.
The choice of a capital is an internal political and practical decision. Under Israeli law, Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and has been since the founding of the state. Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion proclaimed Jerusalem as the Israeli capital on December 13, 1949, and all branches of the government have been located in Jerusalem since that time. Jerusalem, as opposed to East Jerusalem, is undisputedly under Israel’s legal sovereignty, and, therefore, Israel has the right to place its capital there. All states that recognize the state of Israel recognize Israel’s exclusive and unquestioned sovereignty over the portion of Jerusalem within the “Green Line.” The Knesset formalized this position in January 1950. The parliament, in "Basic Law: Jerusalem Capital of Israel," reiterated Jerusalem as the capital in 1980. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478, a non-binding resolution, immediately declared this domestic law “null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.” However, Resolution 478 is both non-binding on the international community and contrary to accepted international practice since the creation of the nation-state system. The choice of a capital is a legitimate domestic decision relegated to the individual states, not something governed by the political policies of other countries.
Even if one refuses to accept the “legal” argument for what determines a state’s capital, there is the factual argument for determining the location of a capital: where are the government offices? Since 1949, all branches of the Israeli government have been located in Jerusalem. The supreme court, parliament, and government offices are all located there. The official residences of both the President and Prime Minister are there. Perhaps this is where the BBC got its idea for the “seat of government” designation. However, if the seat of government is in Jerusalem, what is the actual capital according to the BBC? For example, the Hague is the seat of government for the Netherlands, even though Amsterdam is the official capital. And no one disputes the sovereign right of the Netherlands to have such an arrangement.
The BBC seriously injured its journalistic integrity when it ignored Olympic ideals, international law, and the facts on the ground by refusing to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, both legally and factually.
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