Well, that didn’t go over well.
For months, publishing giant HarperCollins has been selling an atlas it says was “developed specifically for schools in the Middle East.” It trumpets the work as providing students an “in-depth coverage of the region and its issues.” Its stated goals include helping kids understand the “relationship between the social and physical environment, the region’s challenges [and] its socio-economic development.”
Nice goals. But there’s one problem: Israel is missing.
There’s Syria. There’s Jordan. There’s Gaza. But no mention of Israel. The story was first reported by a Catholic publication, the Tablet.
On Wednesday, HarperCollins was backtracking fast. “HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas,” HarperCollins UK said on its Facebook page. “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 it caused.”
It apparently caused quite a bit. On Amazon, the atlas has 39 reviews. Every reviewer gave it one star.
“It’s incredibly sad and sickening how one of the world’s largest publishers has failed to recognize Israel,” one reviewer wrote, calling it a “travesty and international shame.” “Failing to recognize its existence is horrifying and it’s a shame that in 2014, such nonsense still goes on.”
How did this happen? Collins Bartholomew, a subsidiary of HarperCollins that specializes in maps, told the Tablet that it would have been “unacceptable” to include Israel in atlases intended for the Middle East. They had deleted Israel to satisfy “local preferences.”
Strangely, however, the West Bank is clearly marked on the map, but not Israel. Nobody seems to grasp quite what HarperCollins was thinking. “The publication of this atlas will confirm Israel’s belief that there exists hostility toward their country from parts of the Arab world. It will not help to build up a spirit of trust leading to peaceful co-existence,” a British bishop named Declan Lang, who chairs a conference that first highlighted the omission, told the Tablet.
Others were less diplomatic. “What a piece of inaccurate garbage!” one reviewer said.