Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of October 6, 1999
JERUSALEM AT DISNEY WORLD
By David Bar-Illan
The fiasco of Israel's exhibit at Disney World is not merely a public-relations setback. There will be millions of visitors at the Millennium Village in the EPCOT Center, and they will not see what should have been shown in an official Israeli pavilion: that there is no parallel in history to the bond between the Jewish people and Jerusalem; and that in the 3,000 years of its existence Jerusalem has never been the capital of any other nation.
Moslems, Crusaders and Britons have captured and ruled it, but only the Jews, whether in exile or sovereign in their land, have considered Jerusalem their national capital. Nor is there any question that Jerusalem now functions as the capital of sovereign Israel. It is the seat of government, where all internal and external state business is transacted.
None of this is shown in the exhibit. Its creators, anxious to forestall Arab displeasure, produced an "inoffensive" universalist show which is an insult to history and reality. And when even this failed to satisfy the Palestinian Information Ministry and Arab-American organizations, they yielded to threats of Arab boycott, omitted a furtive mention of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and turned the presentation into a dull parody of Shangri-La.
The result was aptly described by correspondent Nitzan Horowitz of Ha'aretz, a newspaper not known for overflowing nationalist sentiment. "Contrary to the bragging of Israeli officials about a victory over the Arabs," writes Horowitz, "Jerusalem is portrayed there as an independent entity, a sort of 'corpus separatum,' a separate body. Israel as a state, an authority, a sovereignty - is not mentioned. The words 'State of Israel' are never heard or seen. Even the modest sponsorship plaque states nothing more than 'Foreign Ministry' in English and Hebrew. 'Of which country?' asked MK Ruby Rivlin."
The desire to avoid offense reaches ludicrous proportions. In a biblical scene, Abraham is asked to sacrifice an anonymous son. You want to know what Aziz of Jerusalem thinks his name is? Press a button on the computer and Aziz will tell you: it's Ishmael.
And what is the most appropriate scene with which to open a film on this modern capital city of more than 600,000, which has had a Jewish majority for 150 years? Why, the Arab market in the Old City, of course. The Knesset, on the other hand, seen from a passing helicopter, is just another building with neither name nor function. It may, after all, hurt some people's feelings to know that the seat of Israel's democratic institutions is located in (gasp) Jerusalem.
Perhaps most humiliating is that the 40 Israeli guides have been instructed to answer questions about Jerusalem's status by saying, "Israel claims that Jerusalem is its capital." This, lest we forget, is not a UN exhibition. It is an Israeli show, in which the Israeli government invested $1.8 million.
That Arab organizations and governments can demand - and get - the right to censor it is a measure of Arab arrogance, Israeli timidity, and Disney's double standard. Such treatment of any other sovereign nation's exhibit would be unthinkable, intolerable and unacceptable.
Nor does it make business sense. The purchasing power of the would-be Arab boycotters is relatively negligible, while the disgust for Disney among Israel's friends may have a more lasting effect. It took Ford many years to overcome the damage to the company caused by Henry Ford's antisemitism.
As Ha'aretz put it, it is a show French diplomats would enjoy. So would the Arab regimes, despite their protests which bespeak an appetite whetted by the taste of continued appeasement. But Jews will find it difficult to disagree with ADL national director Abraham Foxman, who - observing that Jerusalem is depicted as the capital of the Millennium rather than of Israel - said, "Shame on Mickey, shame on Disney, shame on [Disney President] Eisner." He could have added, "Shame on the Jewish community leaders for letting this happen." And yet the most unfortunate aspect of this story is not that a company anxious to avoid controversy surrendered to the kind of extortion only dictatorial, bigoted regimes can practice. What makes this a particularly sad event is that it exposes the unbearable ease with which Israel can relinquish the most cherished elements of its patrimony. Such "public relations" concessions, meant merely to placate others, all too often become Israel's received wisdom. And if recent history is any guide, letting Arab threats and Disney cowardice dictate the showing of Jerusalem as a "corpus separatum" does not bode well for Israel's resilience in the coming battle for its capital.