No State Solution

It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

That’s essentially what conglomerate HarperCollins initially claimed when it was recently reported that a subsidiary was printing an atlas for Middle East schools that omitted the State of Israel.

So in the “Collins Primary Geography Atlas for the Middle East,” Gaza and West Bank are fine. Syria, yup. Jordan, no problem. Israel? Nowhere to be found.

When confronted, the company suggested that it had deleted Israel to satisfy “local preferences.” Only later, after well-deserved public censure and pressure, did it agree to recall and destroy the offending volumes.

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The publisher was caught not by a Jewish organization but instead, by a Catholic publication called The Tablet. According to USA Today, “(t)he book’s omission gained attention after the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales called the book ‘harmful to peace efforts in the Middle East,’ according to The Tablet.”

We’re glad that HarperCollins apologized. But it’s important to note that the publisher’s reason for the atlas treatment in the first place — satisfying a client, so essentially a profit motive — does not excuse what this exercise represented.

It represented the dissemination of “propaganda” in the truest sense of the word.

The phrase, made notorious by the tactics of the Nazi war machine in World War II, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.”

That is precisely what happened here. The publisher’s clients in the Middle East wanted to create a falsehood – that Israel doesn’t exist — to support the local inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric so prevalent in the region, so that the company could sell its atlases.

It was financially beneficial for HarperCollins to create the books with Israel omitted — because by its admission its clients would have not purchased them otherwise — and it did so essentially until it was caught.

Now, this doesn’t make HarperCollins as a whole anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. But what it does mean is that there’s at least one employee at the company, with the authority to give the go-ahead to an atlas like this one, who was willing to sacrifice the perceived existence of a nation to satisfy Middle East clients and turn a buck.

What are the implications of that decision? Well, they’re huge, quite frankly.

If a business is willing to scrap the existence of Israel on a map, what comes next?

Boycotting any business with Israel if a richer client comes along? Boycotting businesses with Jews if rich anti-Semites insist on it? Jews just in Israel? What about in America or elsewhere?

Obviously this doesn’t apply just to Israel and Jews. How would you feel if Missouri legislators decided to accept a textbook that doesn’t show the city of Columbia because they don’t like the town’s political proclivities?

Or more poignantly, how about if a really wealthy bigot who provides financial support for a school district’s textbooks says he’ll only subsidize those that eliminate any reference to slavery? Is it acceptable for the district to go along? Clearly not.

It’s hard enough to scout for objectivity in this world of constant spin. But ignoring known facts — for instance, the existence of a country, and one that finds itself in constant peril to boot — in favor of a visual interpretation that favors the wish lists of Middle Eastern haters, is beyond the pale.

Wrong-mindedness begets hate, but wealthy wrong-mindedness begets widespread hate fueled by propaganda. HarperCollins fell prey to that paradigm, and needed outsiders to explain to them what was wrong and how it required fixing.

We are well aware that there are many facts in the world that are open to debate and discussion, and that not every person, company or publication that posits a fact in a way different from how we might view it is guilty of disseminating propaganda. There’s lots of room for interpretation in many things.

In the case of HarperCollins and Middle Eastern atlases? Not so much.