ASA rulings and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

For one reason or another, the periodic escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict always seem to incite a media frenzy. Sometimes the conflict and its geopolitics stray from editorial into the word of advertising. This summer, coinciding with yet another unfortunate escalation in the conflict in Gaza, there was much controversy when The Times refused to publish an ad written by Elie Wiesel which condemned Hamas’ use of child sacrifice – this is an extract of the ad:

Elie Wiesel ad

The Times apparently cited concern for reader sensitivities as its reasoning for rejecting the ad. The controversy increased when The Guardian decided to accept the same ad, as explained on the Guardian’s site here.

A similar controversy arose soon after, when the Jewish Chronicle newspaper issued a public apology to readers who complained after it ran the below advert for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Gaza crisis appeal.

DEC ad

These stories made me wonder to what extent the ASA, the regulator of UK advertising, has been required to adjudicate on advertising in the context of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. So in this post I’ve taken a look back through all the published ASA adjudications (I could find) which have related in one form or another to the conflict. If you think I’ve missed any, please let me know!

By my counting there are 9 relevant adjudications in total which span from the first in April 2010 up until a recent one last month. Out of the 9 adjudications, 5 of them involved an investigation into adverts published by the Israeli Government Tourist Office. The complaints against the Israeli Tourist Office have usually related to whether or not certain territory or a certain landmark is or is not part of Israel. The ASA has found for and against the various complainants depending on the facts of the particular complaint and the content of the ads.

For example in this adjudication from April 2010 and this adjudication from March 2012, the ASA upheld complaints that the Israeli Tourist Office ads misleadingly implied that East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights were recognised as part of Israel. Another similar ruling came in November 2011, where the ASA upheld a complaint regarding a press ad by a company called ILAN Real Estate, which was held to misleadingly imply that a property development in Efrat in Dekel was in Israel, whereas in fact it was a settlement in the occupied West Bank.

However, in this adjudication from April 2011 and this one from April 2012, the ASA did not uphold complaints that ads from the Israeli Tourist office misleadingly implied that the Western Wall and the whole of Jerusalem (including the Old City and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) were part of Israel.

The other adjudication involving the Israeli Tourist Office involved 3 complaints about a magazine ad which stated amongst other things that Israel is a melting pot of races and creeds...” In that ruling the complainants challenged, amongst other things, whether the claim was misleading and likely to cause offence because they believed that Palestinians in Israel were restricted in movement and excluded from some areas of daily life. In the ruling, the ASA did not uphold the claim on the basis that the inhabitants of Israel were made up of a number of different ethnic groups and faiths and, as with all societies around the world, inequalities existed and the claim would be understood by consumers to be a reference to the population mix of the country and not a claim that the population necessarily lived in harmony and equality.

Out of the remaining 3 adjudications, two of them are “tourism” related and are quite similar to the rulings referred to above regarding the Israeli Tourist office but come from the other side of the conflict. In this adjudication from March 2011, the ASA investigated a magazine ad for Travel Palestine which 149 people complained misleadingly implied that (a) Palestine was a recognised country; (b) the whole of the area described as situated “between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River” was Palestinian-administered territory; and (c) Jerusalem was part of Palestinian-administered territory. The ASA did not uphold the first two points, but did uphold the third point regarding Jerusalem on the basis that, amongst other things, the status of Jerusalem was in dispute. Similarly, in this adjudication from December 2011, the ASA upheld various complaints that an online interactive map created by the Palestinian Diplomatic Mission misleadingly implied amongst other things that either the state of Israel did not exist, or that certain Israeli cities such as Haifa were in fact part of Palestine.

The final ruling is the most recent one from 3 September 2014 where, following complaints from UK Lawyers for Israel and Baroness Deech, the ASA investigated three ads for Medical Aid for Palestinians. The ads described various hardships faced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. In the ruling a whopping 22 separate issues were investigated, which is an unusually large number of separate issues for an ASA adjudication. Out of the 22 issues, one was upheld which related to a claim regarding the number of Palestinians alleged to have had their permit request to get to hospital denied, the other 21 issues were not upheld. Out of all of these rulings, this one is definitely worth reading because of the granularity with which the ASA was required to investigate various facets of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

A particularly fascinating aspect to all of these is the way in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can challenge the traditional separation between editorial and advertising, whereby the mere decision to run or not run a particular ad can itself be a “political” decision.