Citing an obscure law decreed in 1939, while under British occupation, the Israeli government this week banned the import of popular English-language storybooks, republished in Arabic, from printers located in Lebanon and Syria. The main titles that have been banned include the world famous Harry Potter series and Pinocchio, although other classic literary titles have also been banned.
According to Israeli authorities, the ambiguous law prohibits the import of books from countries that are at war with Israel. The main importer of the books from Lebanon and Syria is an Arab-Israeli publisher named Salah Abassi. In a recent radio interview, Abassi revealed that he was warned by the Israeli government to stop importing the books from his supplier in Jordan, however he continued to import books up until the ban was put into place. The revival of the decades old law is a political tool in Israel’s vast arsenal to punish both Lebanon and Syria who have been thorns in Israel’s side for years. However, the real losers will be Israeli-Arabs who can no longer enjoy reading the cult-followed Potter books in their own language.
Harry Potter is immensely popular in the Middle East even though many Islamic countries have discouraged readership while refraining from banning the books altogether. The reason for the distaste with the series is the strong themes of magic in the books. There is even an Arabic fan website for Potter enthusiasts located online at www.ar-hp.com.
This is not the first time that Harry Potter has gotten into trouble in Israel. Last year, Israeli rabbis were upset over the worldwide launch of JK Rowling’s final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. The launch was synchronized across the time zones of several nations so that it would occur at precisely the same moment worldwide. Unfortunately, the launch fell on the Sabbath in Israel, which forbids businesses to open during their day of rest. Israeli authorities from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment insisted that all bookstores delay the launch until after the Sabbath. However, the majority of Israeli business owners ignored the request and the launch went ahead as planned. As a result, many were forced to pay hefty fines, but the profits from the sales of the new Potter book clearly overshadowed the marginal fee.
It is unlikely that Arab-Israeli publishers will be able to ignore the latest ban on Harry Potter as well as other books that have been reprinted in Lebanon and Syria.
Nevertheless, Harry Potter books have sold well over 325 million copies worldwide and sales are still going strong.
This latest Israeli ban is not likely to dim JK Rowling’s magic.