Last month, the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz sought to expand its influence among its extensive English-reading readership with the launch of a freshly redesigned Web site. Publisher Amos Schocken promised that its new digital subscriptions “will enable us to provide you with accurate and comprehensive news coverage, analyses and commentary on Israel, the Middle East.” But here’s a news flash: Erroneous information viewed on an iPad “app,” or on a Web site with a smart new design, is still erroneous.
And, unfortunately, it is the English edition of Ha’aretz, read around the world by all those who love and hate Israel, that is particularly prone to misinformation about Israel and its neighbors. Time and again the media-monitoring organization CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), and its Hebrew-language counterpart, Presspectiva, have encountered instances in which Ha’aretz’s own translators translated the original Hebrew articles into English inaccurately.
Invariably, all of the mistranslations skew in one direction—downplaying or even deleting instances of Palestinian violence and misdeeds. At times, the English version is completely at odds with the Hebrew version. And, in virtually every case, the Hebrew readers get the factually accurate account, while the less informed foreign observers are served up misinformation casting Israel in a negative light.
For instance, last July, when the Israeli army killed a Hamas man in the West Bank, the Hebrew edition correctly noted: “Hamas announced that he was a member of the organization.” The English edition, however, deleted that sentence, as well as any reference to his Hamas membership, and called the casualty a “Palestinian civilian.”
In October, at the time of the Shalit prisoner exchange, a Hebrew article rightly noted that the released Palestinian terrorists were among the most notorious terrorists responsible for the bloodiest attacks: “the prisoners from the Shalit deal are known to the public according to the names of the attack in which they participated: Sbarro, Dolphinarium, Park Hotel, Moment Café, and more, among the most severe attacks ever in Israel.” And yet, the English edition downgraded the top-tier terrorists into noname, low level prisoners: “The names of the prisoners freed since July 2007 mean little to most Israelis, as do the names of the prisoners freed on Tuesday.”
In September, as the Palestinians pursued their statehood bid at the United Nations, a Hebrew-language headline announced: “Clashes between protesters and IDF forces in Qalandiyah and Hebron: A toddler is lightly injured.” The Hebrew article opened with details about the injured Israelis. The English version, however, cut all references to Israeli casualties and the headline transformed the clashes into “protests” that passed “peacefully.”
In another striking instance of what we call “Ha’aretz, Lost in Translation,” translators handily eliminated the problem of illegal Arab building in a Jerusalem neighborhood (in Hebrew, “a house in which Palestinians live illegally”) with the mistranslation “a house in which Palestinians live entirely legally.”
Ha’aretz translators have even dishonestly “translated” numerical digits. A Hebrew headline in November 2010 read: “Hamas admits for the first time: More than 600 fatalities in Cast Lead were armed.” Yet, the corresponding English headline read: “Report: Hamas admits for the first time losing 200-300 men in Gaza.”
Editors have commendably corrected many of the mistranslations mentioned here, among others that we have brought to their attention. But corrections, while welcome, are only treating the symptom.
Ha’aretz’s translation problem continues to fester. Since the recent ballyhooed launch of the new site, Ha’aretz was required to correct two more mistranslations, and has ignored requests to correct a third. Unfortunately, Schocken’s stated mission to “promot[e] greater understanding between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora” will remain unfulfilled until he orders his translators in plain English: “Stop it.”
Tamar Sternthal is the director of the Israel Office of CAMERA (www.camera.org and www.presspectiva.org.il).