LONDON - The Israel Government Tourist Office has pulled the plug on a media campaign after complaints were made that it "wiped Palestine off the map."
A campaign led by the Muslim Association of Britain and Palestine Solidarity Campaign group led to a barrage of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Transport for London and CBS Outdoors (CBSO) about Israeli tourism posters at London Underground stations that used the map of Israel incorporating the West Bank and Gaza.
In a letter to the ASA, the PSC called for it to "take action to have the posters removed as soon as possible," and declared: "We are disappointed that ThinkIsrael.com is again indulging in the insidious propagation of misinformation."
In a statement, the IGTO said the map gave a "tourist perspective" of the region and was not to be confused with a political map.
"The map in the London Underground advertisement reflected a map that gave a tourist perspective to the region," an IGTO spokesperson said on Friday. "It was not to be confused with a political map, but rather the advertisement highlighted those areas within Israel which are particularly attractive to the UK market."
The IGTO added that all people in the region benefit from tourism.
"Tourism is one of the major engines for economic growth in Israel, benefiting all its residents. 2008 was a record year for tourism in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority and it is hoped that the recent pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will serve to encourage pilgrimages to the Holy Land and bring economic benefits to the entire region."
Oren Drori, head of marketing at the Ministry of Tourism, said that no more posters would be put up and existing ones would be removed as they reached the end of their scheduled display times over the next two weeks.
The poster campaign was set to go up on 150 sites across the London Underground. To date, 108 have gone up.
Drori admitted that the adverts were a "professional mistake" and said that they had not been sufficiently vetted.
He added that the Ministry of Tourism would "fast-forward" to the next set of posters scheduled in the campaign.
"The PSC welcomes the removal of these adverts, which had a map showing Israel as including the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, which are all illegally occupied by Israel," said PSC's Sarah Colborne. "These adverts wiped Palestine off the map. It was particularly grotesque to use this map in an advert for tourism, given that under the Israeli blockade of Gaza, even humanitarian aid staff are denied entry."
Highlighting the use of the map of Israel as logos for Palestinian groups, popular London-based blog Harry's Place said: "I'm sure the MAB's and PSC's next righteous struggle for cartographic accuracy will target groups such as Interpal, a British charity linked to Hamas, and the Palestinian Return Center, a pro-Hamas group based in London [both use logos with a map of the entire state of Israel]."
"If the MAB and PSC are really ambitious, the campaign could go international, for example by targeting the terrorist groups Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. I mean, it's just a coincidence that this harassment campaign, sorry, righteous struggle, has started with an Israeli outfit, no?"
The ASA said it would investigate the accusation after it said it had received around 300 complaints. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, a spokesman said once it received a complaint, "be it one or 10,000," it had to investigate and see if it "measured against its code of practice; that I was truthful, not misleading and politically neutral." However, CBSO said that advertising copy is looked at very closely and that they have some of the "strictest guidelines in the media industry."
As a result, the spokesman said, they receive a very small number of complaints.
"We take our responsibility very seriously and all decisions regarding what could be contentious are considered thoroughly," a CBSO spokesperson said.
"Our Copy Approval team check prior to posting to ensure they adhere to the standards set by the ASA and where necessary they seek further advice through the Committee of Advertising Practice," the spokesperson added.