French magazine pulled after saying Israel 'not real country'

BETHLEHEM: Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces following a protest against the US’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel yesterday at the entrance of Bethlehem. —AFP

JERUSALEM: Israel is to name a planned new railway station close to Judaism's hallowed Western Wall in annexed east Jerusalem after US President Donald Trump, the transport minister has said. Trump has been lauded by the Jewish state-and sparked international condemnation-by breaking with years of US policy to recognize the holy city as Israel's capital. Minister Israel Katz approved a plan on Tuesday to extend a high-speed rail line under construction between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem into the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and build a station next to the Western Wall, a statement said.

The station close to the holiest site where Jews are permitted to pray will be called "Donald John Trump", the minister ordered, in tribute to his "historic and courageous decision" on Jerusalem. Trump's controversial shift on the holy city has sparked angry protests by Palestinians and was rejected in a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution. Israel seized the eastern part of Jerusalem-including the Western Wall in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.

Israelis see the whole city as their indivisible capital, while the Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state. The Western Wall, the last remnant of the second Jewish temple, is at the foot of the Haram Al-Sharif compound housing the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam. The new railway line is scheduled to start linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in 2018, cutting the journey time to less than 30 minutes. The ministry puts the cost of the 56 kilometer line, which will also serve the town of Modiin and Ben Gurion airport, at around seven billion shekels ($2 billion, 1.7 billion euros).

Israel 'not real country'

In another development, a magazine for French six-year-olds was being pulled from shops yesterday after it said that Israel was "not a real country". "Youpi, j'ai compris!" (I've Understood!) which sells around 60,000 copies each month aimed at five- to eight-year-olds, was withdrawn by publishers Bayard after protests from Jewish groups. The magazine's January issue carries a map of the world with the following legend: "We call these 197 countries states, like France, Germany or Algeria. There are other ones but not everyone agrees they are real countries (for example the State of Israel and North Korea)."

Bayard said there had been an error. "We recognize our mistake, it was not well put, and obviously we do not want to contest the existence of the state of Israel," its managing director Pascal Ruffenach said. He said they were withdrawing the issue "voluntarily and in good faith because it is important to contribute to the spirit of calm," said.

Francis Kalifat, the head of the French Council of Jewish Institutions (Crif), had earlier demanded that the magazine be pulled. He said he had been tipped off by readers about this "historical untruth being feed to young children aged between five and eight. I immediately wrote to the editor and the head of Bayard to protest about this flagrant error and to demand they rectify it," he said. Crif has also demanded that the magazine run a correction in its next issue "as well as an article explaining what Israel is and how it came into existence." Ruffenach, however, refused to be drawn.

"Our December issue explained the major religions to children. Our publications follow the learning cycle for children of around six years of age. We will see how we can do better next time," he added. Israel was founded in 1948 after a vote at the United Nations on the partition of Palestine. But US President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as its capital has triggered Palestinian protests and was rejected by a UN General Assembly resolution. Israelis see the whole of the city as their undivided capital, while the Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state.- Agencies