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Why Google’s tagline change matters

By Henrique Dores - June 23, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Google] [Sam Bahour] [Internet Activism ]

On the 1st of May of 2013, the Internet search engine Google surprised the world by changing the tagline on the homepage of its Palestinian version from “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine.”

“We’re changing the name 'Palestinian Territories’ to 'Palestine’ across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries,” Google spokesman Nathan Tyler said in a statement given to the BBC on 3 May 2013. “In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organization for Standardization] and other international organizations,” Tyler added.

The reactions to this change were almost immediate. Sabri Saidam, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas contended, “This is a step in the right direction, a timely step and one that encourages others to join in and give the right definition and name for Palestine instead of Palestinian territories.” Moreover, “The step puts Palestine on the virtual map and should encourage others to recognize the United Nations resolution”, says Saidam, referring to the resolution voted by UN’s General Assembly in November to recognize Palestine as an observer state.

Conversely, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, affirmed, “This change raises questions about the reasons behind this surprising involvement of what is basically a private Internet company in international politics -- and on the controversial side.” Palmor’s statement became even more critical, as he continued by saying, ”They aren't an international body whose decisions are binding in any diplomatic or legal way. For all I care, they can do Google Never-Never Land, and that's cool,”.

Google’s involvement in politically sensitive issues is not new. For instance, in December 2012, the Internet behemoth shutdown its services in China to avoid complicity with the State’s intrusive impositions and censorship.

In regards to the most recent case, while many companies continue to profit from the world’s oldest ongoing conflict, Google has displayed the courage to take a step in the opposite direction, and followed the path that UN had started just a few months before. 

Challenging the Discourse

Google’s tagline change can be seen as an outstanding achievement for the Palestinian cause, one that is embedded with blatant symbolism. The importance of this symbolic statement only grows stronger when we consider that official discourse within western world tends to be quite hegemonic, placing exclusive importance on, and solely produced by, Western mainstream media narratives.

Although the practical effects of Google’s emblematic change are very little, it is undeniable that it not only has a great psychological effect amongst western populations, but that it also represents the first real achievement of the Palestinian lobby, and Mr. Palmor’s criticisms reflect precisely that. The political and diplomatic uproar seems to be justified, for Google is not a common company, but instead the world’s largest Internet search engine.

The Palestine Monitor spoke with Sam Bahour, a media and public-relations expert, about the significance of Google’s decision to change taglines. “Google's upgrading of its reference to the remaining 22% of historic Palestine as “Palestine,” instead of “Palestinian Territories,” was really a no-brainer after the UN General Assembly voted Palestine into the UN as a member state by an overwhelming majority. Google's move would have hardly been a headline news story if it were not for the berserk reaction of the Israeli government.”

In fact, to Sam Bahour, this reaction further exposes “Israel's inability to see, let alone realize on the ground, any indication of Palestinian sovereignty is yet another indicator, for those who still need to be convinced, that Israel has no intention, whatsoever, to allow a Palestinian state emerge anywhere between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River.” 

Nevertheless, strategically, the Palestinian efforts, initiated after the UN General Assembly’s resolution that changed Palestine’s statute from 'observer-entity’ to 'non-member observer-state’, to convince big companies to replace the usage of 'Palestinian Territories’ with 'Palestine’, is a great move, for it ultimately aims to influence, at a different but also much larger level, mass global opinion.

Regarding future developments for Palestine’s situation, Bahour affirms, “The only remaining question is what the various stakeholders will do about this new reality of a single authority, Israel, maintaining full control over all of historic Palestine? Short of the international community holding Israel accountable, we must ask how long will it be before Palestinians redefine their self-determination from statehood to civil rights?”.

The Palestinian perseverance and diplomatic agility has thus been rewarded with a great victory, for Google’s change of tagline represents an important asset for the balance of forces in the media. From now on, the virtual wink that Google gave to Palestine will always be regarded as one of the first media accomplishments in a walk of a million miles towards the end of Israel’s illegal occupation. Palestine is 'feeling lucky.’

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