Squeezing Jaffa

First came this story, about how Israel’s UK tourist office approved a poster advertising tourism to Israel that included this map, which shows Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights as integral parts of Israel. Even in the most Israel-friendly reading, few could dispute the fact that there is at least some, well, uncertainty both inside and outside Israel about the political status of these three areas. Who, then, is the Israel government trying to kid? You and me, it seems.

Then came this story about Israeli transport officials planning to impose Hebrew place names on locations throughout Israel. Tourists – and, apparently, locals – are “confused” by the lack of standardised spellings, so in future Nazareth will be signposted in English and Arabic as Natsrat, using the transliteration of its Hebrew name. Similarly Caesarea will be shown as Kesariya, Acre as Akko, Jaffa as Yafo.

If the advert map was (in the most generous interpretation) merely cackhanded mismanagement of spin, it’s hard to see this as anything other than part of an attempt to erase official recognition of any cultures other than Israeli Hebrew culture in these towns and cities.

Do they imagine that they are doing tourists a service by replacing Nazareth with Natsrat? Are they expecting the Arabic-speaking residents of Acre to suddenly start calling their own city Akko?

If the Swiss government in Bern were to issue a decree forbidding the mention of “Genève” and requiring Geneva to be signposted using only the German name Genf, it would (rightly) be interpreted as an attempt to deny the reality of that city’s francophone culture.

Who, then, are the Israeli government trying to kid by, in effect, trying to squeeze the very word Jaffa out of existence? Nobody but themselves, it seems.