Column: How not to redraw the map in the Middle East

When HarperCollins released an atlas designed for English-speaking children in schools in the Middle East, something was missing.

Now, this wasn’t the best laid plan.

HarperCollins is a giant in the publishing world. But in June 2014 it released an atlas designed for English-speaking children in schools in the Middle East.

“Collins Primary Geography Atlas for the Middle East” proudly tooted that it was an ideal school atlas for young primary school geographers, designed for Middle Eastern schools and would enable students to learn about today’s world by exploring clear and engaging maps.

In portraying the geographical location of the countries of the Middle East it made one astounding – and conscious – decision.

It left the State of Israel off the map.

In its place, it showed Jordan extending all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon were all included. But not Israel.

The howls of shock and dismay reverberated everywhere. This wasn’t an accident. The decision to exclude Israel apparently reflected “local preferences”. In other words, the decision reflected political will. According to its subsidiary Collins Bartholomew, had Israel been correctly positioned it would have been unacceptable to its Gulf customers. So clearly then, it was a marketing decision.


What on earth does this do to help children learn with accuracy the countries of the world, their regional positions, and their place in a bigger context during classroom discussions? They all know Israel is right in front of them. And they all know Jordan doesn’t have beach front property. How does this translate into children learning about today’s world in clear and engaging maps? What an insult to Middle Eastern children and Jewish people.

The world knows too well that Palestinians and Arab states have issues with Israel and vice versa. The endless struggle for peace goes on. And it never helped anything or anyone when former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened at the stroke of a pen to wipe Israel off the map. Looks like HarperCollins did it for him.

HarperCollins, headquartered in New York is no slouch when it comes to its publishing status. It has almost 200 years of history and has won many major international literary prizes. It has numerous imprints and publishes globally in almost every conceivable genre. It is a giant among publishers. The publishing company was acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, part of his widespread media empire which, for decades, has steadfastly supported the Jewish state. I can’t imagine his position in this embarrassing state of affairs. So you can’t help but ask, given all the meticulous checks and balances that go on in a book’s progress toward publication, how could such a terrible decision be made. Like it or not, it smacks of anti-semitism.

The State of Israel is central to any profile of the Middle East and has been in existence for 67 years. It is recognized by all countries in the region and even Yassir Arafat, founder of the Palestinian independence movement, acknowledged Israel at the Camp David Summit hosted by former President Clinton in 2000.

On the Amazon website, 169 reviewers trashed the atlas. It only got rated a one-star because the rating system doesn’t have a zero.

HarperCollins has done a massive retreat, recalled all copies of the offensive atlas and is pulping them while, at the same time, offering profuse apologies.

But the damage is done. Criticism has been harsh and heavy and rightly so. This kind of delusional mapping does nothing to advance education, serves no one in the long run, and only continues to underscore the hostility that exists toward Israel.

Many might view with dismay that a western world commercial publishing company would pander for profit to extreme opinions. For HarperCollins, this has been a costly lesson.