The Middle East map wars have returned to the trains and buses of Boston.
Controversy swirled last October over a pro-Palestinian ad campaign hosted by greater Boston’s transit system, featuring a series of four maps purporting to show, incrementally, the “Palestinian loss of land, 1946 to 2010,” and captioned “4.7 million Palestinians are classified by the UN as refugees.”
In recent weeks, Boston commuters have once again been asked to contemplate a map of Israel, this time by an avowedly pro-Israel news organization.
In this go-around, the daily Metro newspaper, distributed gratis at subway stops around the city, included a half-page ad sponsored by the Jewish News Service. Captioned “Who is David? Who is Goliath?” the ad presents a map of North Africa and the Middle East. It depicts 16 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran in a tan color, with each of their populations listed. Wedged among them near the middle is one country in blue: Israel.
The text complains that while there’s no lack of media coverage on Israel, “what’s lacking is objective coverage.” It asserts that “this tiny Jewish nation … generally receives inaccurate, harsh, even hostile coverage from the world’s press,” and that Jewish News Service “was created to correct that.”
Citing its exclusive distribution rights for Israel Hayom – the free Israeli daily owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and known for its unwavering support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in 31 Jewish weeklies across the United States, the JNS ad invites the reader to join it “in getting the truth out about Israel.”
So, what “truth” about Israel did JNS’ recent Metro ad reveal to Boston’s commuters? Apparently, that Israel is surrounded by countries much larger than it is in size and population, all shaded with the same tan color. (The fact that the largest countries bordering on Israel – Egypt and Jordan – have peace treaties with it isn’t noted, nor is the fact that a number of the 16 tan countries are openly hostile to one another.) Admittedly, though, in several obvious respects Israel is the outlier. Fair enough.
But there's another truth about Israel that the map apparently provides. The blue-tinted country, the map shows, extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. Granted, if you look very, very carefully, you’ll see faint outlines designating what’s identified as “West Bank (Judea and Samaria) pop. 2.1 M,” and “Gaza Strip pop. 1.7 M.” But those territories aren’t shaded tan. They, along with Israel within the Green Line, are blue. From the river to the sea.
The message here is both inescapable and ironic. JNS, through its ad, is telling Boston’s commuters that the State of Israel is, or at least will be, one state that includes Gaza and the West Bank, in addition to what the international community recognizes as Israel within the Green Line.
This map, on its face, doesn’t acknowledge, nor does it anticipate, a future Palestinian state.
The irony is that while a number of Israel advocates, including the Anti-Defamation League, expressed dismay over the four-map “Palestinian Loss of Land” ad displayed last October, the JNS map effectively confirms the ad’s concept, as it wipes away any last vestige of Palestinian land.
This is the “objective coverage” JNS claims is so sorely lacking elsewhere? Is Israel already one state that includes Gaza and the West Bank? Some – on the left and the right - could plausibly argue that, de facto, it is. The Israeli government’s recent activities and pronouncements, including its appropriation of almost 1,000 acres near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc last week, only bolster their claim.
But, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Israel isn’t one blue-shaded country from the river to sea. In fact, the United States and the international community – not to mention most Israel advocacy organizations in this country – insist that creation of a viable Palestinian state next to Israel is both just and necessary.
JNS might be telling the "Greater Israel" truth as it sees it, or wants to see it. But that doesn’t make it so, doesn’t make it right, and it surely doesn’t make it responsible journalism.
Fortunately, Boston strap-hangers are pretty smart people. They know how to read maps. And they can see the road this one is sending us down – effectively eliminating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - leads to a dead end.
Michael Felsen is an attorney and served as president of Boston Workmen’s Circle from 2007-2013. He also serves as a trustee of the Interreligious Center for Public Life in Newton, Massachusetts.
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