Recent controversy over Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel—or, rather, the suddenly high-profile debate over whether Jerusalem should in fact be referred to as being a part of Israel—has been compounded by the discovery that official captions of official White House photographs taken during the Obama administration in Jerusalem, Israel now refer only to the city, and no longer the country, in which the photos were taken.
If this seems startling, you might be relieved to learn that this same policy was in effect during the Bush administration, and likely went further back than that. If that still seems startling, last month Marc Tracy deduced that while according to the latest AP Stylebook, the dateline for articles written in Tel Aviv is “TEL AVIV, Israel,” the dateline from Jerusalem is just that: “JERUSALEM.”
“In many of the cases,” Tracy wrote, “the clarifying country is pretty clearly left out because it is unnecessary: Most readers don’t need to be told which countries ‘BEIJING,’ ‘ROME,’ or indeed ‘KUWAIT CITY’ are in. But I wonder if the inclusion of Jerusalem, coupled with the exclusion of Tel Aviv, isn’t a shrewd posture of neutrality.”
What the caption confusion reveals, more than any larger statement on Israel being made by the Obama administration, as some have sought to argue, is that this is a sensitive issue that perhaps demands more care, and attention, than most other photograph captions might.
Adam Kredo writes:
“Explained a pro-Israel Democrat who had initially called me in a panic over the photo snafu: ‘The real problem here isn’t that the White House didn’t write ‘Jerusalem, Israel’ because that’s been consistent with U.S. policy. The issue is that the person in the White House [who approves the captions on these photos] doesn’t have an understanding of the president’s Middle East policy of the policy surrounding Middle East peace. They should have somebody fluent in Middle East issues vetting all White House materials on this subject.’”