UK Advertising Standards Authority Censoring Supposedly Incorrect International Law Claims in Advertisements

From ASA Adjudication on Israeli Government Tourist Office:

A press ad, for holidays in Israel, stated “YOU CAN TRAVEL THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF ISRAEL IN 6 HOURS Imagine what you can experience in 4 days … DAY 1 TEL AVIV & JAFFA DAY 2 JERUSALEM … VISIT … NOW FOR MORE ITINERARIES IN ISRAEL”. Each day of the itinerary featured an image of the destination [including the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which were both in East Jerusalem, a part of the occupied territories of the West Bank]….

The complainant, who said the photograph featured for Jerusalem was of East Jerusalem, challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied that East Jerusalem was part of the state of Israel….

The State of Israel Ministry of Tourism (SIMT), replying on behalf of the Israel Government Tourist Office (IGTO), said the ad provided basic, accurate information to a prospective UK traveller who wanted to know what to expect in Israel. They maintained that it was entirely accurate to assert that a visitor to Israel could visit Jerusalem as part of a short visit. Furthermore, they believed that, had the ad omitted a reference to a visit to the city of Jerusalem, it would have been incorrect and potentially misleading.

The SIMT maintained that Israel took responsibility to support the religious sites of all denominations, a commitment which also formed part of the obligations of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority signed in 1995. They pointed out that the agreement placed the upkeep of holy sites and the determination of tourist visiting hours under Israeli jurisdiction. The SIMT also maintained that the present legal status of Jerusalem had nothing to do with the point at issue. They said it was only of relevance if there was an attempt to interpret the straightforward message of the ad in a manner that went beyond what consumers were likely to understand from the ad….

We understood … that the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank was the subject of much international dispute, and because we considered that the ad implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead….

The ad must not appear again in its current form.

We told IGTO not to imply that places in the Occupied Territories were part of the State of Israel.

This of course has nothing to do with consumer protection — consumers are not likely to make their travel plans based on judgments about whether the Western Wall is technically a part of Israel under international law. It has to do with censoring political opinions that the UK Advertising Standards Authority finds unpalatable. Unsurprising, but unfortunate. (Note also that nothing in the opinion turns on the ad’s being from a foreign government. The same logic would apply to British travel agencies whose ads express the view that the Western Wall is part of Israel.)

Thanks to Avi Bell for the pointer.