TEL AVIV – Senior Israeli officials threatened Wednesday to end their partnership with a major Italian cycling race after organizers said the first stage would begin in the nonexistent city of “West Jerusalem.”
It was supposed to have been a major victory for Israel after it became the first country outside of Europe to be chosen to kick off the Giro d’Italia in May 2018, but events soured over the wording used to describe the Israeli capital, the Associated Press reported.
Sports Minister Miri Regev and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said unless the organizers changed the wording, Israel would renounce its support.
“In Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no east or west. There is one unified Jerusalem,” a joint statement read, saying the use of the term is “a breach of the agreements with the Israeli government.”
“If the wording does not change, the Israeli government will not be a partner in the event,” they added.
The misleading term “East Jerusalem” is criticized for being a misnomer created by certain players in the international community, including the UN Security Council, in an attempt to claim that Israel is occupying the eastern section of the city, which may become the capital of a Palestinian state in a future peace deal. Eastern sections of Jerusalem include the Temple Mount, Western Wall and the ancient Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
Jews have maintained a historic presence in Jerusalem for two millennia, including in the eastern sections, until they were forced to leave the Old City en masse in 1948. Jordan occupied and annexed the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from 1948 until Israel captured the lands in the defensive Six Day War of 1967.
Organizers said they tried to avoid any political minefields when creating the race route, circumventing any land disputed by the international community including the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
According to race director Mauro Vegni, the route was devised with the “guidance” of the Italian Foreign Ministry.
“The reality is that we want it to be a sports event and stay away from any political discussion,” Vegni told the Associated Press.
Last month, Israeli officials lauded the announcement that the Jewish state would be hosting such a major sporting event.
At the time, Regev described the Giro as a symbol of “peace and unity.” The Sports Ministry said the race, which would bring thousands of sports enthusiasts and tourists to the country, would also serve to promote Israel’s history, heritage, “magical views” and holy sites.
According to AP, Giro organizers declined to specify how much its Israeli partners had paid to host the start of the race in Israel.