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‘Haaretz,’ Lost in Translation

What’s up with the weird discrepancies between the Israeli paper’s Hebrew and English articles?

Liel Leibovitz
May 12, 2016

There’s a well-known and regrettable habit among Palestinian leaders to get willfully lost in translation—they speak the peaceful language of human rights and reconciliation when addressing international audiences in English and the bloody vernacular of violence and revenge when addressing their own constituents in Arabic. The leftist Israeli newspaper Haaretz is increasingly coming under fire for doing the opposite, stripping the original Hebrew articles of all nuance and inconvenient truths in the process of presenting a translated English version that’s considerably more jagged and, often, patently false.

The newspaper was in hot water earlier this month after the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA) published a host of examples proving startling discrepancies between the paper’s Hebrew and English coverage. And it’s the stuff of comedy gold.

Noting a tiff between former head of Shin Bet and current member of Knesset Avi Dichter and Ayman Odeh, the Israeli-Arab politician who currently leads the Parliament’s largely Arab Joint List, for example, an Haaretz columnist had this to say, in Hebrew: “I still don’t understand, however, why Dichter vented his rage on Odeh, who after all noted the fact that Dichter ordered people assassinated. Actually I would have even expected Dichter to publicly acknowledge these gems from his life’s story.” If you read the English version, however, you were treated to much juicier stuff: “I still don’t understand,” went the translated quote, “why Dichter vented his rage on Odeh. The Joint Arab List leader said in a television interview that while serving as the head of the Shin Bet, Dichter had ordered the assassinations of PLO chief Yasser Arafat and Hamas co-founders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi.”

Even more incredibly, the English article includes a link to a JTA piece, published in Haaretz, that reports on the French judiciary panel that ruled out the likelihood of foul play in Arafat’s death. But evidence be damned: the claim—the Shin Bet killed Arafat—was too good not to make, even if it isn’t true and wasn’t mentioned in the original article.

You’re welcome to read CAMERA’s blog, Presspectiva, for more Haaretz gems, from erasing the name of an Israeli killed by Palestinian terrorists—in the English version, the Palestinian attack only left some Israelis wounded, not killed—to alleging bias against left-wing NGOs when the original Hebrew piece specifically argued that new legislation considered by the government would impact organizations on the left and the right alike.

So what’s behind these shenanigans? Haaretz’s editor, Aluf Benn, doesn’t say. Interviewed repeatedly by various Israeli media outlets in the last two weeks, Benn dismissed CAMERA’s work as ideologically motivated, even though his own paper has corrected many of the discrepancies noted by the organization. You’re free, then, to reach your own conclusion, or simply enjoy the work of “Haaretz in English,” a satirical Facebook page that matches the paper’s Hebrew headlines with over-the-top, ideologically-motivated faux translations. “Three-year-old from Gaza undergoes surgery to remove tumor in Israel,” read one recent (and real) headline. And right beside it, the requisite satirical English take: “Apartheid in Gaza: Israel separates Palestinian children from their tumors.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.