Follow-up post about Guardian Travel site’s curious omission of the nation known as “Israel”

Last week I posted about the curious omission of the name “Israel” in a list of 110 possible national destinations on the Guardian Holiday Offers site. 

Listed on their site, however, were such holiday hot spots as Rwanda, Uzbekistan, Oman, Namibia, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt, Cambodia, Cuba and Angola – but not the Jewish state, despite the fact the Guardian site was indeed promoting a vacation to the unmentioned country.

However, the country was referred to as “The Middle east”, and the Holiday package itself, titled “Jerusalem, Galilee, and Dead Sea”.

So, shortly after our post, a CiF Watch reader contacted the Guardian seeking an explanation.

Here’s the email sent by Richard Cooper.

Dear Sir,

On your Guardian Holiday offers webpage portal, why have you renamed Israel
‘Middle East’?

Is there something we should know?

Yours faithfully,
Richard Cooper

The email was received by Guardian Deputy Letters Editor Rory Foster, who forwarded it to Lucie Lattimer (Travel and Business Manager at the Guardian and Observer) with a brief observation regarding Cooper’s query.

This does seem odd. Does anyone know what’s going on? Is it because the holiday(s) venture into the occupied territories and therefore we don’t want to say they are just Israel?

Here’s Lucie Lattimer’s reply to Cooper:

Dear Richard,

Thank for your email regarding the Riviera Travel tour to Jerusalem, Galilee & the Dead Sea promoted as a Guardian reader offer. We are of course aware of the political issues in this region and the decision was taken to promote this tour in the ‘Middle East’ region as it is a neutral term for the destinations visited.

We take the comments of our readers very seriously and appreciate the time you’ve taken to write to us. Guardian Holiday Offers have been running for 10 years and we offer holidays that we hand-pick through certain trusted partners that we believe our readers will be interested in and will find culturally informative. Our relationship with Riviera Travel has spanned this decade and they are the most popular tour operator with Guardian and Observer readers. They have an excellent record of customer service and culturally fascinating tours.

The decision to promote this particular tour was a thoroughly thought through process involving us, Riviera Travel and the Guardian Travel editorial team.

In this tour we aim to give an equal billing to the civilisations, past and present, that exist in that region dating all the way back to 800BC. It also aims to visit the unique physical attributes of that region – most notably the Dead Sea. We know that the politics of this region are fragile but aim to offer our readers the choice to visit this culturally important part of the world.

The tour visits areas which are Islamic, Judaic, Christian and Armenian. It is an educational tour of the holy land involving tours around all these religious quarters, not just Israeli, and we feel for our readers that it is an educational and cultural experience that creates awareness. We aim to give our readers the choice about where they visit.

Kind regards,

Lucie Lattimer

Just to be clear, here is the itinerary of the trip to “Middle East”, which seems to be landing in Tel Aviv, Israel, and consists of almost entirely Israeli destinations.

  • Seven nights in four-star hotels with dinner (Presumably in Israel?!)
  • Guided tour of Caesarea, ancient Roman capital of Judea (Israel)
  • Walking tour of Acre, the only fully preserved crusader city in the world (Israel)
  • Boat cruise on the Sea of Galilee (Israel)
  • Visit the serene site of the Sermon on the Mount (just north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel) and the Church of the Multiplication (in Tabgha, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel.)
  • Visit the spectacular fortress of Masada (Israel)
  • See Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation (Israel)
  • Guided visit to the holiest site in Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Israel)
  • See the famous Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, holy sites of Islam and Judaism (Israel)
  • Visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity (Palestinian territories)
  • Walking tour of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem (Israel)
  • See the Dead Sea Scrolls & the Yad Vashem, the moving memorial to the Holocaust (Israel)
  • Stay on the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth (Israel)

So, only one of the stops on the tour is outside of Israel proper, yet Guardian editors, so sensitive about the “fragile” “politics of the region”, decided that “Israel” wasn’t a “politically” acceptable characterization of a trip to the Jewish state. 

As our friend Richard cheekily observed, perhaps tours of Cyprus (given the sensitive territorial dispute between Greece and Turkey) should be named Phoenicia!

Or, I was thinking, maybe Iraq, in light of the Kurds’ long desire for national independence, should be more sensitively referred to on the Guardian Travel page as “Babylonia”, or even “Mesopotamia”.

The list of possible national euphemisms are endless.

If you want to follow-up and share your thoughts to Lucie, and her associate at the Guardian Holiday Offers desk, Jon Neill, contact them at holidayoffers@guardian.co.uk

Adam Levick

Jerusalem, Middle East

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