By Cindy Mindell
It seemed innocent enough: a publicity email from a nationwide storage corporation bearing the intriguing heading, “Fifteen Countries That Could Fit Inside Connecticut.”
Likening the state to a storage facility, the infographic included a set of colorful maps, each depicting the map of a country whose area could be accommodated within Connecticut’s borders, set inside a map of the Nutmeg State.
The set of maps did not depict Israel, which is larger in geographic area than Connecticut. However, it did include “Palestine,” portraying the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and accompanied by the caption, “Palestine would fit inside Connecticut 2.3 times.” It did not include a caveat, such as the one included with the map of Hong Kong, which stated, “Though technically not a country, Hong Kong would fit inside Connecticut 5.2 times.”
Upon further research, the Ledger discovered that Israel was in fact listed in several of the U.S. state infographics and that “Palestine” was featured in two: Connecticut and Delaware. When asked how the designers determined which countries should be included in each state, SpareFoot.com, the Austin, Tex.-based parent company of SelfStorage.com, informed the Ledger that the ad campaign designers had consulted Wikipedia’s “List of Sovereign States and Dependencies by Area.”
When the Ledger inquired as to why the “Palestine” map did not carry a caveat like that of Hong Kong’s, SpareFoot.com immediately updated the Connecticut infographic, changing the map caption to read, “Though not an officially recognized country, Palestine would fit inside Connecticut 2.3 times.”
“Notwithstanding SelfStorage.com’s politicized maps, most of the West doesn’t recognize a sovereign state of Palestine – perhaps because the Palestinian Authority does not meet the legal criteria for statehood,” Gilead Ini, senior research analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) told the Ledger. “That an ostensibly apolitical company would stumble like this, using erroneous language to suggest the existence of such a state, and with defined borders that encompass disputed territory, underscores the importance of making sure the media leads by getting the facts right.
“This hasn’t always happened. Journalists have sometimes referred to the West Bank and Gaza Strip incorrectly as ‘Palestine,’ and perhaps have convinced others who trust the media to be accurate and objective to follow suit. Fortunately, after communication with CAMERA, news sources including the New York Times and Associated Press have corrected their inaccurate language. SelfStorage.com should do the same. And it should refrain from adjudicating international disputes by showing maps with borders that don’t exist,” Ini said.
Judy Alperin Diamondstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, agreed.
“Palestine is not a country and … if all other locations listed are countries, then it doesn’t seem appropriate to include Palestine with or without the caveat. Including Palestine is a political statement. Palestinian statehood should not be decided by a marketing campaign but by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” she told the Ledger.
The Ledger also contacted Seth Katzen, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Delaware, who was unaware of the ad campaign. Katzen quickly emailed SpareFoot.com, requesting “an immediate removal or correction” of the Palestine map in the Delaware infographic.
In response, the creator of the ad campaign explained, “I based our comparisons off Wikipedia’s List of Sovereign States and Dependencies by Area, which I’m aware contains areas that are not recognized states and have politically contentious borders, and while I did add caveats noting this in some circumstances I was inconsistent in doing so. This campaign was all done in fun and there was never any intention of making political statements or stepping on toes.”
The map of “Palestine” was subsequently removed from the Delaware infographic.
The incident appears to have been put to rest, at least for now. But should it have been cause for concern to begin with? The Ledger reached out to several local Jewish organizations to determine whether the SelfStorage.com ad campaign merited a response from a Jewish communal or watchdog organization and if so, what the appropriate policy and/or action should be. A few declined to comment or determined that the issue was not their bailiwick.
“I think the role of the organized Jewish community is to educate those who are responsible for an ad like this and I don’t think that we should ever assume that there’s some malicious intent. Instead of coming down on someone with a hammer, we ought to try and create a sense of understanding and try to educate as to why it might be problematic,” said David Weisberg, executive director of the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County.
“I think that folks should feel comfortable calling their local Jewish Federation and their local Jewish Federation can decide who’s best to help. I don’t think that anyone should be responsible for having to navigate his or her way through 10 different organizations and decide who’s the best one to call. Your Federation’s going to figure out the best way to move the concern forward,” he added.
When contacted by the Ledger, Howard Sovronsky, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, did not hesitate to take action, calling the SpareFoot.com marketing department to explain why the Palestine map was inappropriate and to request that it be removed from the Connecticut infographic.
His appeal was honored and the PR-marketing representative he had spoken with emailed an apology for the error. Sovronsky then asked for an apology letter or email from an authorized representative of SpareFoot.com that he could share with the Greater Hartford Jewish community. As of press time, Sovronsky had not heard back from the company.
Like Delaware, the Connecticut “state storage unit” infographics no longer contain a map of “Palestine.”
CAP: When the above ad for SelfStorage.com brought complaints from the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, the advertisers made some textual adjustments.