Why did Apple take the Israeli flag out of Mac OS Yosemite?

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Yosemite upgrade screen

Hebrew-speaking Mac users upgrading their operating system to the latest version, Yosemite, are discovering that something was lost along the way. In previous versions of the OS, the icon for Hebrew on the computer’s language bar was the six-pointed star of David that sits at the center of the Israeli flag. On the new operating system, released in mid-October, it has been replaced with a fairly sad-looking “א“ (alef), the first of Hebrew alphabet’s 22 letters.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 10.22.35 PM
After the upgrade.

The missing symbol has provoked a heated discussion online. “Do any nerds or conspiracy theorists have any insight into the sudden removal of the flag?” asked one Facebook user, Justin Tzedek. An answer soon arrived: “The world is against us”. But that response, which started as a joke, soon turned—as often happens with Israelis and their relationships with the world—to a serious debate. Another user, Aharon Landis, said he checked other language icons and found that, while some languages used in more than one country, such as Chinese and Arabic, are represented by a character symbol, almost all others—Japanese being apparently the only other exception—have a national flag. “It definitely seems irregular, and clearly a decision was made to make this change at a highly politically charged moment,” he wrote. “In that case,” concluded another commenter, “I’m not updating to the new version.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 10.02.18 AM

Indeed, Apple’s call on language icons appears inconsistent. Arabic and Chinese get symbols, but Spanish, another language used in many countries, gets Spain’s flag. In the former Yugoslavia, another sensitive part of the world, Serbia gets a flag, Croatia too—but Bosnia does not. English gets many flags: American, British, Irish, Canadian and others—representing different keyboard layouts. French and German do likewise.

Strictly speaking, the symbol Apple removed was not the flag (which is a star of David with a horizontal blue bar above and below it), but the symbol of Judaism. Perhaps the company would argue that lot of non-Jews in Israel—the one-fifth of the population who are Arab—also speak Hebrew. Nonetheless, the change comes at a sensitive time for Israelis. Earlier this month a Jewish-Israeli activist-artist, Natali Cohen Vaxberg, posted a video to the web (warning: NSFW) in which she defecates on several national flags, including Israel’s. It didn’t end well: She was arrested, charged with desecrating the flag, and put under house arrest. Israel has also been feeling beleaguered in general, after Sweden last month became the first country in Western Europe to recognize the state of Palestine.

So how does Apple decide which languages will be represented by characters and which by flags? And what made it take the Israeli flag down? We have asked Apple for comment, and will update this post if we get one.

Follow Uri on Twitter @uri_blau

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