Social Studies

McGraw-Hill Education Pulls Textbook Amid Criticism Over Middle East Map

By Leo Doran — March 24, 2016 4 min read
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McGraw-Hill Education recently withdrew a comparative politics textbook after complaints over a series of maps that some said were unfair to Israel.

Earlier this month a popular pro-Israel blog, “The Elder of Ziyon,” posted a scathing critique of a series of maps published in the McGraw-Hill textbook, Global Politics: Engaging a Complex World, along with the company’s customer-service email address.

The textbook was available in both digital and print forms and was marketed to higher education. McGraw Hill is one of the nation’s best-known publishers of K-12 academic resources.

In a controversy that has echoes of an earlier dust-up from last October when MSNBC ran a similar series of maps on live television before apologizing, pro-Israel groups have charged that the maps in the textbook are laid out in a way that tells a misleading story of steady encroachment and dispossession of Palestinian lands at the hands of Jewish settlers and the Israeli government.

The day after the blog post appeared, the company announced it would temporarily halt sales of the textbook.

Five days after the critical blog post, McGraw-Hill said that an independent academic review overseen by the company found that “the map did not meet our academic standards” and that in addition to offering refunds and permanently discontinuing sales of the book, “All existing inventory will be destroyed.”

Considered to be one of the most intractable geo-political struggles of the last 100 years, the Arab-Israeli conflict has simmered in recent months. Over the past year, tensions have mounted over a spate of knife attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers, the continued blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government over concerns that Hamas is hoping to import heavy weaponry, and the controversial expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The last major outbreak of large-scale fighting in 2014 claimed the lives of more than 2,100 Palestinians, 66 Israeli soldiers, and 7 Israeli civilians, according to the UN Human Rights Council.

The recent outbreaks of violence have intensified discord in academic circles in the West. Organizations such as the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which pro-Palestinian groups tend to support, have pressured institutions to divest their holdings in Israel. Other voices have sought to support Israel’s policies in academia.

Tallie Ben-Daniel, the academic advisory council coordinator of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that advocates for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, says she was “shocked” and “hugely disappointed” with McGraw-Hill’s decision to pull the textbook.

Ben-Daniel argued that “the maps are fundamentally accurate,” noting that she uses similar maps in her own lessons and calling the move by the publisher “anti-intellectual.”

While she disagreed with critics of the maps, Ben-Daniel said she agreed that an advanced survey of the history of land rights in the Levant, or the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, should reflect a much more nuanced portrayal of Ottoman, English, Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian, United Nations, and regional Arab interests at play.

The pro-Israel groups in disagreement raised myriad objections to the maps. These include concerns that the images are inconsistent in their color-coded legends and play fast and loose with questions of private ownership versus state control. They also say the maps do not accurately reflect Israeli concessions in Sinai, southern Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Reached by telephone, the author of the Elder of Ziyon blog, who responded to questions on the condition of anonymity, said “it is appropriate that propaganda not be in textbooks” and that “McGraw Hill’s response was extraordinarily admirable.”

The blogger went on to say the Elder of Ziyon would not have a problem with the company re-issuing the textbook without the maps.

A spokesperson for the company indicated in an email that a reprinting was unlikely, both because of the maps’ flaws and because the book was near the end of its life cycle. “Demand for it was low,” the spokesperson said, and “we decided to no longer sell the book and are reverting the copyright to the authors.”

Recently, McGraw-Hill changed the language in a map’s caption in a separate high school history textbook which referred to African slaves as “workers.” In that case, the company said it had revised the online version, but would continue to sell the original until a new edition of the textbook is published.

Ben-Daniel says she finds the failure to reach a similar solution for the Global Politics book is “ironic” given that “the textbook is about engaging in a complex world.”

The image used in this story is taken from the original blog post published by the Elder of Ziyon blog

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.