Friday, February 29, 2008

The mother of all mistranslations

from Melanie Phillips' blog in The Spectator:

Ye gods. The BBC has put out this story:

Israel warns of Gaza ‘holocaust’

Israeli leaders are warning of an imminent conflagration in Gaza after Palestinian militants aimed rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon. The deputy defence minister said the stepped-up rocket fire would trigger what he called a ‘bigger holocaust’ in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.

This reported remark by deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai caused widespread shock and absolute horror. For an Israeli minister to use the word ‘holocaust’ to describe a limited war of Israeli self-defence, when for Jews of all people the ‘Holocaust’ means one thing: genocide — and this at a time when the calumny of the ‘Jews as Nazis’ is rampant around the world, putting Israel and the Jewish people at risk — was simply beyond belief.
It was indeed without any credibility — because Vilnai never said it. It was an appalling mistranslation by Reuters, the source of the BBC story. Vilnai said:
‘The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger “shoah” because we will use all our might to defend ourselves'.
Reuters translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.
As a subsequent Reuter’s story reported,
Vilnai's spokesman said: ‘Mr. Vilnai was meaning “disaster”. He did not mean to make any allusion to the genocide.’ Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, added: ‘Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai used the Hebrew phrase that included the term 'shoah' in Hebrew in the sense of a disaster or a catastrophe, and not in the sense of a holocaust.’
But this grotesque mistranslation has given Hamas a propaganda gift which they lost no time exploiting:
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai's comments: ‘We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people.’
At a time when the rockets continue to rain down on the southern Negev and Israel is being forced to contemplate stepping up its incursions into Gaza because of the truly genocidal assault upon its citizens by Hamas, such a mistranslation is more than an unfortunate slip. In the present explosive atmosphere, it can lead directly to an enormous escalation of violence by the Palestinians.

It is not enough for Reuters to try to cover its backside in subsequent stories. It must issue an explicit retraction, and so must the BBC. Instantly.


Flavia said...

Don't hold your breath waiting for Al-Reuters or the Bull---- Broadcasting Company to ever do anything half so honest - they printed what they did on purpose in the first place!!

Dust Dreams said...

"Shoah" DOES mean what you in english usually call holocaust (greek word.) shoah USED to mean "calamity" (it's a biblical word), but after the 1940s it has come to mean "the holocaust" and everyone in israel knows that. what a disgrace.

Adam Holland said...

"dust dreams":

You're wrong. Let me quote from Ami Isseroff's blog:

Friday, February 29, 2008
Reuters Holocaust Shoah

[Feb. 29] Reuters news service either deliberately or by accident mistranslated remarks by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai. Because it involved the omnipotent word "Holocaust," this triggered an international news libel against Israel.

Vilnai said:

"As the Qassam rocket fire [on Israeli civilians] intensifies and increases its range, the Palestinians are bringing upon themselves a bigger catastrophe because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."

In Hebrew, he had said, "Yamitu al azmam shoah gdolah yoter." That means, "Will bring upon themselves a greater disaster. Reuven Alcalay's English Hebrew dictionary lists catastrophe, ruin or destruction among the most frequent meanings of "shoah." It also means "pit" or "abyss." "Hashoah," with the definite article, means "the Holocaust." That was not what Vilnai said. The phrase is a Hebrew cliche of common officialese. "Holocaust" means the destruction of European Jewry. It literally means a whole animal offered as burnt offering. It cannot be greater or lesser, because in Hebrew at least, Ha Shoah can only refer to that one event. Genocide of other peoples is generally referred to as "Rezach Am" - a literal translation meaning "murder of a people."

World Media were quick to accuse Israel of plotting genocide against the Palestinians, without bothering to check the meaning of the phrase with the source.

British newsmedia and Reuters, were particularly energetic:

Reuters: Israel minister warns Palestinians of "shoah"
The BBC: Israel warns of Gaza 'holocaust'
The Guardian: Israeli minister warns of Palestinian 'holocaust'
The Times (of London): Israel threatens to unleash 'holocaust' in Gaza

Another blood libel has been created, and it won't go away so easily.

Beaman said...

Reuters and the BBC have disgraced themselves, that is certain. Israel needs to boost their International PR especially in Europe and America. Like 'Al Jazeera English' now beams across the Western World, so should an Israeli equivalent, because most journalists over here don't give a damn for facts. Not when it comes to Israel at any rate.


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