HarperCollins Apologizes for Omitting Israel from Atlas

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A HarperCollins atlas intended for English-language schools in the Middle East has been pulled and pulped after drawing widespread criticism for failing to label Israel on its maps.

HarperCollins describes The Collins Middle East Atlas as “an ideal school atlas for young primary school geographers” that is “specifically designed for schools in Middle East countries.”  However, the atlas “shows Jordan and Syria extending all the way to the Mediterranean,” writes The Tablet, a Catholic newspaper who originally reported the story.  While both Gaza and the West Bank are labeled, there is no mention of Israel, reports Alison Flood for The Guardian.

Complaints by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, who said such an omission was “harmful to peace efforts in the Middle East,” caused the publisher to recall every unsold copy of the atlas in addition to correcting the intentional misprint for future editions.

Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs Bishop Declan Lang said it “will confirm Israel’s belief that there exists a hostility towards their country from parts of the Arab world”, and “will not help to build up a spirit of trust leading to peaceful coexistence.”

Vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Alex Brummer, a HarperCollins author, called the country’s omission “outrageous.”

“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,” he wrote.

The publisher has since apologized for the error in judgement, writes Lori Grisham for USA Today.

“HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas. This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologizes for this omission and for any offense caused,” said the statement published Wednesday on the company’s Facebook page.

According to Collins Bartholomew, a mapping subsidiary of HarperCollins, the omission of the country was done to satisfy “local preferences.”  He went on to say that customers in the Gulf region, where the majority of copies would be sold, would find including Israel in the book to be “unacceptable.”

Amazon is still selling the book, but it is only available through third parties.  The book has received almost 150 one-star reviews as exemplified below:

“Way to go Collins! While we’re at it, let’s delete Sweden from the map of Europe, Venezuela from the map of South America, and Russia entirely. In fact, let’s all design our own maps of the world and leave out all the countries we don’t particularly care for.”

The publisher’s quick response and the outpouring of criticism have gone some way towards mending wounds caused by the error. As Brummer writes,

“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.”