Mapping the world is not as easy as it seems. Border disputes make it difficult to draw national boundaries that everyone can agree on. Countries come and go over time and maps must be redrawn, even reconceived. When Crimea is annexed by Russia or the West Bank is occupied by Israel, when Japan and China fight over islands in the East China Sea or India and Pakistan disagree over the status of Kashmir, complicated questions can arise.
But even within this often-gray world, some things are indisputable, and respectable cartographers have a duty not to distort reality in order to appease one audience or another. So HarperCollins should be ashamed of itself for wiping Israel off a map intended for English-language schools in the United Arab Emirates.
The outline of the country appears on the map, but the nation is not labeled, unlike all the surrounding countries. Even the Gaza Strip is labeled. HarperCollins has been forthright enough to acknowledge to Tablet, a Catholic magazine, that it left Israel off intentionally, as a nod to “local preferences,” because mention of Israel would have been considered unacceptable in the schools for which the map was intended.
That’s a shocking admission. If certain Arab nations prefer not to acknowledge Israel’s existence in their schools, there’s not much that can be done about it, though it’s a sad comment on the education their students receive and, even more, on prospects for peace in the Middle East. But it is wholly unacceptable for an international publishing house — in this case, HarperCollins’ United Kingdom subsidiary — to set aside accuracy to make a few sales.
There obviously are wrenching disputes about Israel’s borders, and there are many people in the Arab world who wish the country didn’t exist. But it does. That has been true since the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution in 1947 calling for Palestine to be partitioned into Jewish and Arab states. Today, Israel not only has the external trappings of a state — a functioning government, a standing army, a currency, some territory, and a national bird and tree — but it is also recognized by all but a couple of dozen of the U.N.'s nearly 200 member nations.
Last week, HarperCollins apologized for the “omission” and said it was destroying all of the maps in its possession. That’s a start. Now it needs a clear policy against compromising its commitment to truth. This time it stepped on a live wire, provoking a loud outcry when the inaccurate depiction was discovered. Not every such revision would draw so much attention, but all of them would diminish trust in an industry that has a long tradition of integrity.
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