“Departure from west Jerusalem,” Israel’s ire, the long hand of BDS tries also the Giro d’Italia

If somebody had hoped that on a beautiful morning in May (the month of the scheduled race) amid the fragrance of roses in Jerusalem the Giro d’Italia bike race, as announced, would have begun within a peaceful atmosphere, which the initiative of a globalized and extra-European bike race should have symbolized for Israel and the world, without arousing a wave of contention…Well, that person would have been terribly wrong.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is trying to strike even the Giro d’Italia.

It was a malicious slip, but a nerve was touched during the presentation in Milan of the race’s course when reference was made to it starting from “west Jerusalem,” as was written on its official website, instead of from Jerusalem tout court, and this triggered heated controversy. Immediately, in a joint statement Israel’s Sports Minister Miri Regev and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Israel it is said committed $12 million to the event) made it known that that Israel would pull its support if the wording didn’t change, and added that defining the capital “west Jerusalem” broke the agreements reached with the organizes. “In Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no east or west. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

The disgraceful expression was quickly removed, proof that there really was no need to pollute the water, or that the Giro officials intended to do so despite the fact that it’s a delicate issue is obvious, and certainly was something discussed at length during preparatory meetings: the race will be the first in its history to include a route outside of Europe, and the first three stages of its itinerary will take place in Israel, with great attention that the tour won’t hurt anyone’s sensibilities. But is not  among the simplest.

The action to write “west Jerusalem” doesn’t seem like a simple mistake. First and foremost it’s a political position that tends to delegitimize Jerusalem on its 50 Birthday as Israel’s capital. Moreover, it seeks to undermine the Israeli and Jewish passion for their 3000-year-old capital.

In short, this is yet the umpteenth time of delegitimizing Israel by distorting its history and national identity. It’s enough to look at the two very different episodes that converge here together: UNESCO’s decision to declare the Temple Mount, aka the Noble Sanctuary, along with the Western Wall, as belonging exclusively to Arabic heritage, and what happened, in the sport world, to Tal Flicker, the Israeli judoka who won a gold medal in Abu Dhabi. He had to compete without a flag and without his national anthem, despite singing it all by himself as a medalist.

These are two episodes of BDS, namely boycotting Israeli identity, in the ongoing war. In the case of Jerusalem: the idea of the division between east and west Jerusalem calls to mind of the people who don’t know much of the Israeli history the so called “occupation” and therefore the undesirable division between two parts of the city whose eastern side must, according the this version, be considered Palestinian. The truth is that the city was divided and occupied for 19 years, from 1948 to 1967, by Jordan, when Israel in both cases fought wars against the Arab world’s aggression.

In the first war Israel lost, and the city was divided; in the second it won and the city was reunited. Since then, for all the citizens there is freedom of movement, worship, national health care, schools, right to work, opinion, transportation, and both Jews and Arabs have the right to vote. Opinion polls that examine the Palestinian world demonstrate that they vast majority would choose to live under Israeli sovereignty.

Dividing the city would immediately create a disadvantage for its Arab population, and current religious tourism would experience its effects and the fear of Islamic world’s continued growth.

Moreover, when the city was divided in 1948, the streets where Jews resided were constantly targeted by shooters, a bit like happened with Gaza once Israel left –it has been launching missiles into Israel ever since, like it did just yesterday.

For Israel, Jerusalem is not a semantic question, it’s a reason for living, and Italy, with the Giro, seemed finally to have understood that. Now the danger is that the opportunity excites the BDS movement, the Palestinians have even already turned to the Pope to have the event annulled, the Palestinian ambassador in Rome Mai Alkaila protested against the correction on behalf of the Giro, denouncing what he considers an illegitimate occupation.

The organizers must be calm. Yitzhak Rabin said clearly: “Jerusalem has been reunited, it will never be divided again.” He was certainly not an extremist!

The Giro d’Italia won’t, however, divide the capital.

Translation by Amy Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (December 1, 2017)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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