Mapping the Middle East

An advertisement in this month’s edition of National Geographic Traveler (UK edition) has triggered a volley of complaints from readers — prompting an investigation by Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

From the January/February 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler (UK edition)

The ad — called Travel Palestine, and paid for by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities — includes language that implies the state of Israel does not exist:

“… Palestine lies between the Mediterranean coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East….”

“If you consult the map of this region you will see that this is like describing Portugal as lying between the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean,” said London lawyer David Lewis in a letter to the ASA, which has so far received 60 complaints about the ad.

Another point of contention is the ad’s list of destinations — “Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and Gaza…” — which the Zionist Federation of the UK says gives the “false impression” that Palestine is a country and that Jerusalem is part of Palestine.

For the Advertising Standards Authority, this is familiar territory. Last year, they banned an Israeli tourism poster that included a photo taken in East Jerusalem of the Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock in the background. The image “misleadingly implied” that East Jerusalem was part of Israel proper, which the ASA considered a violation of truth-in-advertising guidelines.

Could this controversy be a sign of things to come for our Society — especially now that National Geographic publishes an Arabic edition? We wonder…

•  How will our publishing partner — the Abu Dhabi Media Company — draw its maps of the land “between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River”?

•  Will the editors of the Arabic edition provide any cartographic recognition of Israel? Or…

•  Will our publishing partner follow the lead of many Arabic textbooks, which refuse to acknowledge Israel’s existence?

Most important:

•  How did our Society address this (painfully obvious) issue in our licensing agreement with the Abu Dhabi Media Company?

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