Beware the Middle East’s map of denial

Maps have always had an impact on reality and shaping the future—and still do. Columbus’ new world quest was influenced by the maps of medieval Jewish cartographers, Abraham and Yehuda Cresques. Their “Catalan Atlas” also put Islam on the world map in a new way by depicting Mecca as a marvelous city of Muslim piety.

In today’s GPS era, technology has shrunk the globe to fit in the palm of your hand—but alas accuracy is still not guaranteed—not when it comes to Israel. It shouldn’t come as a shock that 96% of Palestinian textbooks omit any map of their Jewish neighbor or that Arab nations who still don’t recognize the Jewish state are reluctant to even list it among the nations of the world. But here’s a sampler of disturbing incidents in western democracies. A few years ago, British BMI Airlines omitted the Jewish state from an in-flight map of their London-Tel Aviv flight. The alumni magazine of The London School of Economics forgot to include it. German car giants, BMW and Mercedes, also left out Israel. BMI and BMW eventually apologized—but not Mercedes.

Now, the important US publisher, Scholastic, has apologized and corrected a children’s book in its Geronimo Stilton series that included a Mideast map omitting Israel.

Even the cartographers from our State Department got creative when, on the eve of President Obama’s visit this year, they posted a map of the Holy Land seemingly placing Jerusalem as part of the West Bank.

How to account for the geographical amnesia that removes Jerusalem from Israel and omits Israel from the Mideast?

While some incidents may have been an accidental slip of the mapmaker’s pen due to Israel’s tiny geographical footprint, many omissions reflect campaigns in the real world to delegitimize Israel.

In academic circles, there are those who describe Israel as an illegitimate offspring of colonial powers in the wake of World War II. Many of these same intellectuals see Israel as a colossal historic mistake and depict the Jewish state itself as a colonial occupying power.

Christian Churches on both sides of the Atlantic, including traditionally pro-Israel Evangelicals, are being targeted by Palestinians and their supporters who invoke the theologically and politically charged Palestine Kairos Document. It says in effect that Christian support of Zionism and Israel is a theological sin because Judaism has been “superseded.”

And then there is the high-profile Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement that poisons the well against the Jewish state among trade unionists and high-profile cultural and entertainment figures.

Ostensibly, BDS just wants to end “Israeli occupation”—and Palestinian humiliation. In fact, its true vision is a zero sum game in which a Palestinian state supplants the Jewish one—not joining it as a peaceful neighbor. As Omar Barghouti, the mastermind of the highly influential, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), has said: “If the refugees were to return, you would not have a two state solution, you’d have a Palestine next to a Palestine. . . . If you don’t leash the mad dog, it will bite everyone.”

Barghouti was born in Qatar, grew up in Egypt, and later moved to Ramallah as an adult after receiving a Master’s degree in engineering from Columbia University. He then exploited academic freedom offered by Tel Aviv University to pursue an advanced degree while comparing Israelis to “mad dogs.” He views all Israeli academics as members of an “occupation reserve army” who should be boycotted en masse, not just as individuals.

There is also disturbing evidence that the BDS Movement’s animus extends beyond border issues to anything associated with the Jewish people and its traditions. Three dozen British celebrities, including actress Emma Thompson, followed by 2012 protest demonstrations, tried unsuccessfully to force a cancellation at London’s Old Globe Theater of a Hebrew language performance of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice by Israel’s Habima Theater—allegedly because “Habima has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Of course, the protestors had no difficulty, despite brutal Chinese repression in Tibet, accepting an official performance of Richard III in Mandarin. Around the same time, “Beethovians for Boycotting Israel” sang their own version of the Ode to Joy repeatedly during a concert by the Israeli Philharmonic at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

There is a certain hateful logic in the refusal of BDS supporter, African American novelist Alice Walker, to have her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, translated into Hebrew.

We shouldn’t be shocked by “accidental behavior” by corporations as well as governments and politicians to color Israel or its capital invisible. But friends of peace—not just Jews—must draw the line at Israel denial—successor to Holocaust denial—and protest every insidious attempt to create a new Judenrein geography of hate in the Holy land.

About the Author
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Dr Harold Brackman is a historian and a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center