Ha’aretz, Lost in Translation

May 6, 2012 — There’s Ha’aretz in Hebrew and then there’s Ha’aretz in English, and it’s not just language or circulation which sets them apart. (The Hebrew edition of Ha’aretz has a very low circulation in comparison to other Israeli newspapers; its influential English site is the go-to portal for Western journalists, policymakers, diplomats, and a vast public.)

Close reading of both print editions over the course of years has revealed an ongoing pattern. In preparation for the English edition, the Hebrew articles (most Ha’aretz stories are written first in Hebrew) are not merely translated – they’re often also whitewashed. In sometimes dramatic and sometimes subtle cases, time and again, information appearing in the Hebrew original concerning Palestinian militancy, violence and other Arab wrongdoing is downplayed or omitted entirely. In some instances, the English account is completely at odds with the original Hebrew.

For instance, on Jan. 11, 2011, Zvi Barel wrote in Hebrew about a plan by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to link the eviction of Jews residing in an illegal building in the neighborhood of Silwan to the eviction of Arabs also living in illegal buildings in the same neighborhood: “A house in which Jews live illegally will be exchanged for a house in which Palestinians live illegally.” (Emphasis added.) The Hebrew report was factually correct.

The English translator, however, whether intentionally or not, gave the sentence an entirely new – and false – meaning, rendering the “illegal” Palestinian house “entirely legal.” The English read: “A house in which Jews live illegally will be exchanged for a house in which Palestinians live entirely legally.” (Emphasis added.) Is this either an entirely innocent slip of the pen or perhaps subconscious editorializing on the translator’s part? It’s impossible to know, but the introduction of the word “entirely,” which does not appear in the Hebrew original, suggests something perhaps more deliberate at play. (The English edition, online and print, was subsequently corrected after Presspectiva, CAMERA’s Hebrew site, contacted editors. See “Presspectiva, CAMERA’s Hebrew Site, Prompts Improvements,” below.)

This case would be striking enough as a stand alone item, but unfortunately it is consistent with a clear trend, which CAMERA has begun to document on its blog (blog.www.camera.org) but which warrants an extensive published study. The following is a partial collection of some of the highlights of the “Ha’aretz, Lost in Translation” series. (All translations from Hebrew are CAMERA’s.)

Tensions surrounding the Palestinians’ September 2011 statehood bid at the United Nations provided fertile ground for the Ha’aretz translators-cum-whitewashers. Journalist Avi Issacharoff reported fully on the words of Latifa Abu Hmeid, the mother of four terrorists who was appointed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to lead a procession to the United Nations office in Ramallah and deliver a letter addressed to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, thereby launching the statehood campaign. The Hebrew version of Issacharoff’s story quoted Abu Hmeid:

I hope there will not be shooting and there will not be injured. We don’t wish to see more of our people killed. I paid a very high price, like every Palestinian household. There are those killed, there are prisoners. I am prevented from seeing my fours sons. We want peace with Israel, but Israel does not want peace. We will return to our lands, including the lands of 1948. (Emphasis added.)

And the English version? Apparently not wishing to detract from the “we’re not interested in an intifada” sentiment expressed in the article, Ha’aretz translators tactfully – or, some might say, deceptively – omits Abu Hmeid’s less peaceful remark.

Sanitizing Terrorists Released in Shalit Deal

An Oct. 19, 2011 on earlier prisoner exchanges makes clear in Hebrew that the released Palestinian prisoners from the Shalit deal are from the most infamous terror attacks, well-known to Israelis. It reports:

The names of the 1,233 prisoners released in recent years mean little to most Israelis. But the prisoners from the Shalit deal are known to the public according to the names of the attacks in which they participated: Sbarro, Dolphinarium, Park Hotel, Moment Café, and more, among the most severe attacks ever in Israel, and that is the difference [between this release and earlier releases.]

But the English translation of this article reads the exact opposite. Incredibly, contrary to the Hebrew original, it states that the released prisoners from the Shalit deal are unknown to Israelis. The English reads:

The names of most of the prisoners freed since July 2007 mean little to most Israelis, as do the names of the prisoners freed on Tuesday [in the first round of the Shalit deal].

Furthermore, the Hebrew (online) subheadline and first paragraph both refer to the earlier releases as Israeli “gestures,” meaning that Israel was not bound to implement them, but nevertheless did so out of goodwill. In contrast, the English version eliminates the word gesture, replacing it with the longer and more vague “various political reasons.”

Hamas Member Becomes Civilian

In another blatant case of scrubbing the Palestinians’ image, an English edition news brief on July 14, 2011 by Anshel Pfeffer covers “the killing of a Palestinian civilian by an IDF force,” 22-year-old Ibrahim Sarhan. Nowhere does the brief note that Sarhan was a Hamas member, despite the fact that the original Hebrew item states: “Hamas announced that he was a member of the organization.” (The online English edition was improved following Presspectiva’s intervention. See below for details.)

Friendly Face for Hostile Egyptian Official

Nabil Elaraby, appointed Egyptian Foreign Minister in March 2011 also gets a facelift in the English edition. An English subtitle about his appointment reads: “Nabil Elaraby sat across from Israelis at the negotiating table on several occasions, dating back to the successful Camp David agreements in 1978 that led to the Egyp t-Israel peace treaty.” As the CiF Watch Web site pointed out, “He seems like just the sort of nice chap Israel should be happy to see rise to the top in the ‘new Egypt.’” Yet, the Hebrew subtitle does not emit such a promising message. It states: “Nabil Elaraby, who served as Egypt’s ambassador to the UN, replaced Achmed abu El Rit. In the past, he led initiatives against Israel.”

Fabricating Israeli Misdeeds

But Ha’aretz’s “Lost in Translation” affliction is not just limited to whitewashing Palestinian misdeeds. At time, it includes the complementary component – mistranslating or introducing misinformation reflecting negatively on Israel which did not appear in the Hebrew original.

Under this heading, readers are told that Israeli soldiers are responsible for the death of Mohammed Al Dura. A May 1, 2011 English article initially stated:

[Jamal] Al-Dura had sued Yehuda for libel after the doctor, who operated on him in 1994, exposed details from his medical file in order to back claims that the elder al-Dura’s scars were the result of surgery – and not caused by the IDF fire that killed his son in September, 2000. (Emphasis added.)

The English translator simply skipped over the Hebrew words indicating that according to Jamal IDF fire was responsible for Mohammed’s death. The omission of these key words makes all the difference in the world in such an explosive and disputed incident. (In this case too, Ha’aretz editors fixed the English online edition following communication from Presspectiva.)

Many of the mistranslations give misinformation about minorities in Israel. Thus, according to the June 17, 2011 English paper, “Arabs and married women” “cannot serve in the Israel Defense Forces.” Though both groups are exempt from serving, they are entitled to serve, and some do so. The inaccurate sentence does not appear in the Hebrew edition.

Likewise, the English version of an article by Gili Cohen Dec. 4, 2011 claims:

the Naqba Law, which makes it possible to deprive organizations that oppose the core principles of the State of Israel of funding and “does great damage to the freedom of political expression, to artistic freedom and to the right to demonstrate,” according to the report.

Except, the so-called Naqba Law does not apply to “organizations” in general, but only to government funded bodies, such as public schools or municipalities. And the only funding at risk is government money, not donations, foreign or otherwise.

The Hebrew version of the article does not mention the Naqba Law at all, leaving one to wonder once again: who are you Ha’aretz translators and why have you mangled the original Hebrew? The long-term impact on Ha’aretz’s robust foreign readership of routinely downplaying Palestinian violence and misdeeds while fabricating Israeli wrongdoings should not be underestimated. In plain English, Ha’aretz translators are doing a very bad job.

Presspectiva, CAMERA’s Hebrew Site, Prompts Improvements

Presspectiva, CAMERA’s Hebrew-language Web site, works closely with CAMERA’s English-speaking staff in Israel to identify, document, and correct instances of “Ha’aretz, Lost in Translation.”

Since Presspectiva’s launch in 2010, the Israeli staff has communicated with Ha’aretz editors regularly, gaining corrections and improvements on some of the mistranslations, among other errors at Ha’aretz.

Some of the mistranslations discussed in the above article were corrected, if only online, as a result of Presspectiva’s work.

For example, Ha’aretz commendably ran a relatively rare print correction on a Jan. 11, 2011 English article mentioning “entirely legally” inhabited Palestinian homes in Silwan. The original Hebrew article had correctly noted the Arab homes were, in fact, illegal.

More often, mistranslations noted by Presspectiva/CAMERA were corrected in the online edition, though corrections did not appear in print. For instance, an article which had initially erroneously claimed that IDF killed Mohammed Al Dura was updated to indicate that the boy’s father claimed the IDF killed Mohammed.

A news brief which wrongly identified a slain Hamas member as a civilian changed that description to “youth,” and added: “Hamas later confirmed that the youth was a member of the organization.

Similarly, the Ha’aretz English edition updated the inaccurate headline “Report: Hamas admits for first time losing 200-300 men in Gaza war” to “Report: Hamas admits for first time losing more than 600 men in Gaza war.”

Likewise, editors updated an English article online which had wrongly stated that Defense Minister Ehud Barak took responsibility for the killing of several Egyptian soldiers in August 2011. The updated version correctly noted that Barak “expressed regret over the deaths of three Egyptian policemen,” and deleted the phrase that had initially appeared: “from Israel Defence Forces fire on Thursday.”

CAMERA applauds editors’ efforts to correct mistranslations once they appear. But the question remains: what steps, if any, have been introduced to ensure that translators no longer take liberties with reports to suit their personal agendas?

This article will be updated as new cases of “Lost in Translation” appear.


Rewriting the Nakba Law, May 10, 2012

Hebrew (Talia Nesher): The law enables the finance minister to reduce or withhold budgeted funds to state-funded bodies, if among other things, they call for the rejection of the existence of the state of Israel….

Original English: In January, the High Court of Justice upheld the controversial Nakba Law passed by the Knesset in March, which fines bodies who openly reject Israel as a Jewish state.

Corrected English: In January, the High Court of Justice upheld the controversial Nakba Law passed by the Knesset in March, which grants the Finance Minister the authority to reduce the budget of state-funded bodies that openly reject Israel as a Jewish state or mark the state’s Independence Day as a day of mourning.

Print Correction (May 11): An article by Talila Nesher (“Tel Aviv University students to mark Nakba Day on campus,” May 9 [sic]) incorrectly stated which bodies are affected by the Nakba Law. The law applies to bodies that receive state funding and not as published.

Judaism’s Holiest Site, May 13, 2012

Hebrew (Nir Hasson): The Western Wall is undoubtedly a holy site, but the kotel plaza is apparently the brightest and hottest spot in Jerusalem.

English: The result is an almost unbearable experience for worshipers and tourists who congregate at Judaism’s holiest site.

Kfar Sava Hospital’s Alleged Arabic Ban, May 18, 2012

Hebrew (headline and subheadline): Parents of Children Hospitalized at Meir Hospital: Teachers at the Institution are Prohibited From Speaking Arabic

According to the parents’ complaint, the director of the intistution’s education center berated teachers in front of them. The Education Ministry: No such instruction exists in the regulations book

English (headline and subheadline): Kfar Sava hospital bans teaching staff from speaking in Arabic

Arab teachers and students working in Kfar Sava’s Meir Medical Center have been forbidden to speak to each other in Arabic, despite the fact that Arabic is one of Israel’s official languages.

Corrected Online English headline (as of May 30): Parents claim that Kfar Sava hospital bans teaching staff from speaking in Arabic

Print Correction (May 29): Due to an editing error, the headline of an article by Jack Khoury about Meir Hospital (“Kfar Sava hospital bans teaching staff from chatting in Arabic,” Haaretz, May 18) neglected to point out that the claim was based on a complaint filed by parents whose children were hospitalized there.

Hebrew (headline and subheadline): Border policemen push and injure a 60-year-old man during the arrest of suspected stone throwers: The man, a resident of east Jerusalem, tried to prevent the police from entering his house to arrest a suspect, was pushed towards a jeep and required treatment. His son was sprayed with tear gas. Watch the documentation of the incident

English (headline and subheadline): Border Police caught on video beating elderly Palestinian man: Clip shows Faraj Sub-Labn, a man of around 60, collapsing on the ground after being shoved onto a parked military vehicle near his home in the northern Jerusalem village of Dahiat Al-Barid.

Hebrew (headline, in print): Suspected terror attack: Palestinian broke into a home in Eshkol and stabbed a woman

English (headline, in print): Soldiers shoot, kill Arab teen after Gaza-area home invasion and assault

Hebrew (headline and subheadline, in print): Who in the Knesset is looking after the housing shortage: The severe shortage of public housing does not encourage MKs to check where funds from the apartment sales, meant for those in need of public housing, have disappeared

English (headline and subheadline, in print): Where did funds earmarked for public housing go? To pave a road to Ma’aleh Adumim, among other things

Hebrew (headline, in print): Changing the Jerusalem map: Planning committees approve extensive building beyond the Green Line

English (headline, in print): Jerusalem okays new housing in move ‘designed to eliminate chance of deal with Palestinians’

Hebrew (headline, in print): Within hours, the police and army evacuated the Palestinian outpost erected in Area E1

English (headline, in print): Troops evacuate Palestinians from E-1 tent protest despite court injunction

Print correction (Feb. 7): In the article “Troops evacuate Palestinians from E-1 tent protest despite court injunction,” by Chaim Levinson and Barak Ravid, published on January 14, it should have been made clear that the court injunction referred to tents rather than the protesters.

Hebrew (in print and online): Yesterday Palestinians reported that Israeli soldiers shot to death a Palestinian youth near the border fence in the Gaza Strip. According to Hamas’ Ministry of Health, the fatality was Mustafa Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old farmer from Beit Lahiya. The army spokesman denied the report, saying the incident was not related to the army. 

English (in print and online): . . . Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man in the Gaza Strip. Israel had no immediate comment on the reported shooting of the man, who the Islamist Hamas-run Health Ministry said was a farmer, in the Gaza town of Beit Lahiya on the frontier with Israel.

Online correction (online as of Jan. 24, on another article): Palestinian sources said that Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man in the Gaza town of Beit Lahiya near the border with Israel. Gazan officials said Mustafa Abu Jarad, 21, was a farmer. He was taken to Shifa hospital, where doctors said he died from his wounds. The IDF denied involvement in the incident.

Print correction (Feb. 7): In the article “IDF kills fourth Palestinian in a week,” by Jack Khoury and Chaim Levinson, published on January 16, the reported shooting death of a Palestinian man by Israeli forces should have been attributed to Palestinian sources. It should also have been noted that the IDF denied involvement in the incident.

Hebrew (in print and online): Cohen is the man who decided, among other things, whether to arrest Samer Issawi last August, after he had been released in the Gilead Shalit deal, and whether and how to interrogate Arafat Jaradat . . .

English (in print and online): Cohen is the man who decided whether to arrest Samer Issawi last August after he had been released in the deal in which abducted soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 477 Palestinian prisoners.

Print correction (Jan. 28):


Hebrew (in print and line): About a month ago, Ha’aretz reported that the Health Ministry director-general Prof. Rami Gamzu sent out a directive to the four health funds not to automatically give Ethiopian women the injection. “Without taking a position or establishing facts about the claims regarding this matter,” the director-general wrote, “I request that all gynecologists working in or with the HMOs not renew Depo-Provera prescriptions for women of Ethiopian origin or other women if for any reason there is concern they might not undersand the ramifications of the treatment.” (Emphases added.)

English (in print and online): About a month ago, Health Ministry director-general Prof. Rami Gamzu indicated there may have indeed have been some kind of policy to this effect, when he instructed the fourth health maintenance organizations to stop adminitering Depo-Provera injections as a matter of course. The ministry and other state agencies had previously denied knowledge or responsibility for the practice.

Gamzu’s letter instructed all gynecologists in the HMOs “not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.” (Emphases added)

Hebrew (in print and online): On Jan. 1 this year a procession took place marking 48 years since Fatah’s first attempted attack.

English (in print and online): At a procession in Dheisheh marking the Fatah’s 48th anniversary in January, youngsters brandished weapons.

Hebrew (in print and online): In June 2012, the United Nations educational and cultural organization, UNESCO, recognized the Church of the Nativity as a Palestinian World Herit age Site. The decision was made a few months after Palestine became a member of the organization.

English (in print): The UN recognized the Church of the Nativity as a Palestinian World Heritage Site several months after Palestine became a full-fledge member of the organization.

Correction (March 19, in print): In the article, “IDF to relocate Iron Dome battery for Obama photo-op,” by Barak Ravid (March 12) it was UNESCO, and not the UN, which recognized the Church of the Nativity as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, several months after Palestine became a full-fledged member of the Organization.

Hebrew (in print and online): Every professional army officer not in a front-line unit must spend a week a year protecting settlements — part of the regular tour of duty guarding settlements in the West Bank, in the Jordan Valley or the Kerem Shalom area, as part of securing the region.

English (in print and online): These 25 unauthorized outposts are guarded by a special force tasked with “community protection.” Soldiers from the force typically spend a full week at a time guarding and protecting the outpost where they are stationed.

Every professional army officer who does not serve in a front-line unit must spend one week a year protecting these settlements.

Correction (April 5, print): An article by Gili Cohen (“IDF regularly deploys soldiers to guard one-quarter of illegal West Bank outposts,” April 4) should have stated that every professional army officer who does not serve in a front-line unit must spend one week protecting vulnerable communities on both sides of the Green Line. The original version included a translation of the Hebrew term “yishuvim” as “settlements.”



Hebrew (in print and online): During the hearing, which took place in a small room near the room where Issawi is hospitalized under heavy security, he decided to stand up and remove his clothes. He looked very thin, skeletal, and he said to the judge and those present: “You showed us this look a few days ago when you showed Holocaust victims.”

People who attending the hearing said that the judge and representatives of the prosecutor’s office were shocked by the prisoner’s appearance and by the comparison that he made.

English (online): During the hearing, which took place next door to Issawi’s hospital room, he stood up and removed his clothes. He looked very thin and skeleton-like, according to witnesses present at the hearing. “You showed this look a few days ago when you showed the victims of the Holocaust,” Issawi then told the hearing, referring to Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this month.

Those who attended the meeting report that Judge Kaufmann and the Military Prosecutor’s Office representatives were shocked at how Issawi looked, and agreed to the comparison.

English (in print): People who attended the meeting said that Kaufmann and the military prosecutors were shocked at how Issawi looked and agreed with the comparison.

Correction (in print, April 24): Jack Khoury’s article on April 23 (“Palestinian hunger striker refused to participate in trial”) contained a translation error. It should have stated that people who attended Samer Issawi’s hearing said that Judge Dalia Kaufmann and the military prosecutors were shocked both by Issawi’s appearance and by the comparison he made between his appearance and that of a Holocaust survivor.

Jews Permitted to Pray on Temple Mount, May 9, 2013

Hebrew (in print and online): Yesterday morning the police allowed some 200 Jewish worshippers to enter the Temple Mount in honor of Jerusalem Day.

English (in print and online): The rioting ensued Tuesday after the police allowed some 200 Jews to enter the Temple Mount to pray in honor of Jerusalem Day.

Correction (May 16): Due to a translation error, two recent articles (“Jordan grills Israeli ambassador following Temple Mount rioting,” May 9, and “Women of Wall, Haredi girls face off at Kotel,” May 10) incorrectly stated that police allowed Jewish worshippers to enter the Temple Mount to pray. By Israeli law, Jews are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount.

Jewish Israeli Rape Victim Transformed into Palestinian, June 6, 2013

Hebrew (online): Yeshaya, a judge emeritus of a district court in Tel Aviv, said this week during a hearing that “some girls enjoy rape.” He was the head of an appeals committee on national security which was ruling on the appeal of a female youth, now 19, who was raped six years ago by four Palestinians near the Hizma checkpoint.

English (in print only): Yeshaya’s comment that “some girls enjoy rape” was made this week while he was serving as head of an appeals committee that ruled on the case of a teenage rape victim. The Palestinian teenager, now 19 years old, was raped six years ago by four Palestinian youths near the West Bank’s Hizma roadblock, near Jerusalem.

Correction (June 14): In the article “Judge who said ‘some girls enjoy rape’ resigns, loses PM’s support for Likud post” (June 6, 2013), the rape victim was mistakenly identified as a Palestinian. The victim is an Israeli citizen who had returned to the court with the goal of being recognized by the Defense Ministry as a victim of terror.


Nun Too Accurate, Sept. 1, 2013


Hebrew (headline and subheadline, online):  A nun from Syria visiting Israel: An American attack would prove disastrous; Sister Agnes-Mariam worries that an attack would turn Syria into Afghanistan and ignite a regional war; She claims that 150,000 Jihadi fighters from 80 countries already rule the majority of the country’s populated areas

English (online only): Syrian sister points accusing finger at Israel, U.S.; Why a Carmelite nun believes the chemical attack in Damascus was faked

Correction (Sept. 2): On visit to Israel, Syrian-based nun backs beleaguered President Assad; Why a Carmelite nun believes the chemical attack in Damascus was faked

Life Sentences Lost in Translation, Oct. 28, 2013

Hebrew (print and online): According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the released prisoners carried out the attacks for which they were imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords and served 17 to 28 years in prison.

English (print and online): The Prime Minister’s Office stated that all of the prisoners slated for release were involved in attacks before the Oslo Accords were signed, and all received sentences of between 17 and 27 years in prison.

Correction (Oct. 29): Due to a translation error, an article by Barak Ravid and Jonathan Lis (“Ministers approve release of 26 Palestinian prisoners for peace talks,” October 28) incorrectly stated the length of the sentences handed to the 26 Palestinians due to be released this week. They were all sentenced to life terms or at least 30 years.

Last updated: Oct. 29, 2013. Tweet about “Ha’aretz, Lost in Translation” (#haaretzlostintranslation)