Both Israel and Arabs claim victory as Disney exhibit opens to the public

NEW YORK, Sept. 27 (JTA) – The standoff over the depiction of Jerusalem at Disney World’s EPCOT center continued last week, as Israel expressed confidence that the Walt Disney Co. “will honor its commitments.” At the same time, Arab groups believe that Disney has acceded to their point of view. Israel is sponsoring a national exhibit in a 15-month “Millennium Village” at the Florida theme park, in which Jerusalem features prominently. Israel is one of 24 exhibits in the millennial pavilion, which was set to open with a gala event Wednesday and is open to the public beginning Friday. On Saturday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that said visitors to the exhibit “will have no doubt that Jerusalem is and will forever remain Israel’s capital.” Last Friday, a meeting of Arab foreign ministers accepted the written assurance of Disney executives that “the Israeli exhibit does not reference Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” Exactly whose claim is accurate will best be determined when the exhibit actually opens this week. Whether any change was actually made in the wake of the recent controversy, however, may never be known. Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel-Meguid was quoted as saying, “We have considered the response of Walt Disney to delete any reference about Jerusalem being the capital city of Israel as an important step taken by Walt Disney.” The Arab League and Arab American groups, charging that Disney was making a political statement by allowing Israel to portray the holy city as the capital of Israel, had threatened to boycott the international entertainment company. Abdel-Meguid said the 22-member Arab League was not pursuing a boycott, but was discussing ways to represent the Palestinian Authority at the EPCOT pavilion. The Walt Disney company has maintained that it is an entertainment company and does not take political positions. Israel claims Jerusalem as its “eternal, undivided capital.” The Palestinians see eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The issue of Jerusalem is on the agenda for final-status talks between the two parties. A Walt Disney Co. representative could not be reached for comment, but in the past, the spokesman for Walt Disney World, Bill Warren, has said that all exhibits in the Millennium Village are “under development” and “in a constant state of change.” He has refused to comment on the content of the exhibit, citing a confidential relationship with Israel. A delegation from the Arab League, together with representatives of several Arab and Muslim American groups met with Disney World’s president, Al Weiss, on Sept. 15 in Washington to discuss their concerns regarding the exhibit’s depiction of Jerusalem. Last week, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy told representatives of American Jewish groups in New York, however, that “nothing has changed regarding Jerusalem” in the exhibition’s content, which was created by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “We are sure that the exhibition will take place as planned,” he said. Levy also congratulated Jewish community leaders who took action against a proposed Arab embargo of the Walt Disney Co. The Palestinian Authority – which had joined American groups and the United Arab Emirates in calling for a boycott – is abiding by the Arab League’s decision, but awaits the outcome of further discussions before formally changing its stance on Disney, according to a Palestinian source at the United Nations. But at least one U.S. group, the American Muslims for Jerusalem, is continuing its call for a boycott. “Our position is not connected in any way to the Arab League,” said the group’s executive director, Khalid Turaani. “Our position remains that we are still dissatisfied with Disney World’s decision to go forward with the exhibition,” he said. The statement by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, he said, indicates that Disney is partnering with Israel, thus flaunting international law regarding the status of Jerusalem, and maintaining “Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem.” Speaking with Arab leaders Sept. 24, Levy reportedly said boycotts “had no place at a time of peace talks.” Levy was expected to attend Wednesday’s gala opening of the exhibit.

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