The very idea that a major publisher, HarperCollins, would release an atlas for use by English-speaking children in schools in the Middle East, which fails to show Israel is outrageous.
The state of Israel has been a fact of life in the region for 66-years and has been recognised as such by the most populous Arab country, Egypt, as well as Israel’s nearest neighbour, Jordan. Even Yassir Arafat, father of the Palestinian independence movement, was prepared to acknowledge Israel at the Camp David Summit hosted by former President Clinton in 2000.
It is encouraging to learn that following protests from both the Jewish and Christian communities HarperCollins has now agreed to remove the offending atlas from the shelves and to pulp the remaining stock.
But that it made it all the way to the bookshelves, with no one at HarperCollins putting on the brakes, shows how distorted the teaching of Middle East history has become in Arab countries.
The offending map shows the West Bank marked immediately adjacent to the Gaza strip as if Israel did not exist. In effect, HarperCollins achieved what the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened at the stroke of a pen: wiped Israel off the map.
As a HarperCollins author (my biography of Lord Weinstock was published in 1999) I know first-hand the strenuous tests for accuracy and legality which publishers go through before releasing any book.
So it is extraordinary that this went through so many checks without anyone noticing. One can only conclude it was a deliberate decision taken by the publishers purely for commercial reasons. What makes it even more surprising is that the publishers are part of Rupert Murdoch’s diverse media empire which, over the decades, has strongly supported the Jewish state.
What this episode illustrates is the distorted view of Israel which exists in much of the Middle East. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has regularly complained about the use of textbooks and videos in the Palestinian territories that use ancient antisemitic tropes and embed hatred in young minds, making peace in the region that much more difficult.
The truth of the matter is that from a point of view of economic geography is a vital part of the region. It is one of the few Middle Eastern states that qualifies as a member of the OECD, the organisation of advanced economies based in Paris.
The conventional way of drawing Israel on the map is to use the so called ‘Green Line’ – drawn after the 1948 War of Independence and the recognition of Israel as a state by the United Nations – as the formal border. Dotted lines are then drawn to show the so-called disputed territories of the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the six day war in 1967.
It is this disputed territory that has been the subject of successive rounds of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as they seek to establish two states, Israel and Palestine, sitting alongside each other.
What is comforting is that in the case of the HarperCollins atlas Christians as well as the Jewish community have been anxious to correct an inaccuracy which smacks of anti-Zionism and borders on antisemitism. It is welcome that HarperCollins has reversed itself and hopefully it will be on guard against further offensive publications.
But one would also like to see the diplomatic and foreign policy community fully engaged in combatting antisemitic tropes and denials of the horrors of the Holocaust that still form part of the curriculum and textbooks in many parts of the Arab world.
Alex Brummer is a Vice President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and chairs the International Division