Google has been at the center of heated geo-political controversy before, usually around disputed place names or borders on maps. A new controversy, however, has arisen about one of Google’s international homepages: Google.ps.
That’s the page previously dedicated to the “Palestinian Territories.” On May 1 Google dropped “territories” and now calls it “Google Palestine.”
This move follows UN recognition of the Palestinians last November as a “non-member state.” The name change was condemned by Israeli authorities immediately after it happened. According to the Jerusalem Post Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page and said the following:
“By [using 'Palestine'] Google is in essence recognizing the existence of a Palestinian state,” Elkin wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page.
“Such a decision is in my opinion not only mistaken but could also negatively impinge on the efforts of my government to bring about direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” Elkin wrote.
“We’re changing the name ‘Palestinian Territories’ to ‘Palestine’ across our products. We consult a number of sources and authorities when naming countries.
“In this case, we are following the lead of the UN, Icann [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers], ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] and other international organisations.”
Because this is such a hot-button issue it does amount to a self-conscious “political statement” by Google and not simply a causal naming decision that follows the lead of other organizations. Google is lending its voice, rightly or wrongly, to the debate about Palestinian statehood.