Errors in Translation or Biased Editing? Haaretz in English Sounds Bad
Disparities between Haaretz‘s Hebrew and English editions have prompted criticism against an extreme leftist bias that appears again and again in the English edition. And what does Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken say to this?
Yonatan Kitain, Globes 14/07/2016
When MK Yair Lapid raised public consciousness about Haaretz‘s English edition by pointing out that newly appointed editor Noa Landau’s partner is a “Breaking the Silence” activist, an outcry erupted on social media, and the MK hastened to apologize.
But if this losing argument by Lapid is easy to dismiss, his more interesting argument focuses on the power of Haaretz‘s English edition as one of the only sources of information about Israel available abroad, whose censure of Israel — which critics claim is much harsher than the Hebrew edition’s — causes damage to the country and its foreign policy.
One person who did not need Lapid’s unsuccessful remark to be aware of the issue is Hanan Amiur, editor-in-chief of the website Presspectiva, whose self-described mission is to “promote fair and accurate media coverage of Israel and the Middle East.”
When asked to identify noteworthy examples of errors that he and his team found in Haaretz‘s English edition, Amiur didn’t know where to begin. “They make mistakes all the time, and they [the errors] are always of the sort that creates bias against Israel, compared to the Hebrew edition. They often correct [the mistakes] after we contact them, but unfortunately it is not unusual to catch such errors.”
Indeed, on Presspectiva’s website, it is easy to find dozens of inaccurate translations spanning years. The most recent case that underscores the differences between Haaretz‘s English and Hebrew editions concern the soldier who fatally shot a terrorist in Hebron and is now being tried in military court.
The Presspectiva website provides examples demonstrating how the Hebrew headlines that clearly state that [soldier Elor Azariyah] shot a terrorist, are altered so that readers cannot deduce this information from the English headlines. In one example, “The killing of the terrorist” is changed to a “Hebron shooting” in English. In another, the Hebrew headline refers to “the terrorist,” while the English version refers to him as “the wounded Palestinian,” and so on.
If that’s not enough to convince one that this is part of a consistent editorial position, there is also the difference in the tags under which articles on the subject are grouped on Haaretz‘s two websites. The Hebrew tag is “The soldier who shot the terrorist,” while the English tag is “The Hebron shooting.”
Amiur mentions another prominent example. In 2014, Amira Hass and Yair Ettinger published an article about settlers who lit a Lag Ba’omer bonfire in an olive orchard belonging to a Palestinian family. The Hebrew headline was “Lag Ba’omer: Settlers in Hebron lit a fire in an olive orchard at Tel Romeida.” In English the headline stated: “Lag Ba’Omer in Hebron: Setters torch Palestinian orchard.”
The website published a correction to the story following Presspectiva’s request. But in the meantime, Peter Beinart, a well known American journalist who contributes to Haaretz, tweeted to his 24,000 followers a link to the article with the label: “A Lag Ba’omer Pogrom.” He later corrected.
“That’s what they try to claim, that it’s random. But one cannot keep making this claim when all the distortions are always in the same direction, to the side of more censure of Israel.”
And when you contact them, do they publish corrections?
“In many cases, yes. We had an open dialogue with them. If you read our criticism, you can see that it is substantive, not a hyperbolic online comment. And they actually did correct many articles, until Amos Schoken [Haaretz‘s publisher] told me that he objects [to the corrections], and that if he has any complaint it is not against the English editors – but against Haaretz in Hebrew’.”
Schoken confirms both comments.
“An Attempt to Turn Media Criticism Into Politics”
Another sharp critic of Haaretz‘s English edition is Yediot Achronot journalist Ben-Dror Yemini. Yemini, who in recent years has engaged in pro-Israel advocacy worldwide. He tells of the tough questions he encounters during his lectures on college campuses, which are often based on information people read in Haaretz. “The questions I encounter are between tough and hostile, and in many cases, when they want to prove an allegation, it’s based on articles in Haaretz.“
If there is a negative bias in Haaretz in English, why do you think this happens?
“I don’t know, I don’t understand them just like I do not understand the Israeli left. After all, there are enough good arguments against the right and what the right is doing to us. I’m not a right-winger, I’ve written
more against the settlers than everything I’ve written against the Israeli left. Indeed, there are good arguments to make. But turning Israel into a monster only pushes us further away from peace and perpetuates the occupation. “
And Haaretz doesn’t understand this?
“I think they believe it’s the right thing to do. In other words, from their perspective: ‘we are the progressive forces, we belong to the international community that is very hostile to Israel, and we provide it with exactly what it wants, because we are the main source of information.’ But they [Haaretz journalists] are not fighting the occupation, they are fighting against Israel.”
When Schocken is asked about the disparities between the two edition, he explains an important point: “The editions are edited separately. A headline at the website or the English print edition is not necessarily a translation of the Hebrew headline because the Hebrew article is sent to both [editorial boards] and is then sent for translation. And every editorial board decides on the scope of the article and chooses the headline that it believes is most suited for its readership.”
Even so, as the data suggests, there are lots of mistakes in the English edition.
“I think there are very few such mistakes. Generally, looking only at the headline is wrong, we aren’t a newspaper of headlines, and every story can be given more than one headline. In any case, I emphatically reject that there is a tendency in the English edition to paint Israel in a worse light or to be more critical because the Hebrew edition is critical enough.
“We know what Israel’s main problem is, and Haaretz criticizes it in Hebrew and in English. Because they cannot attack us on serious matters, [our critics] look for this type of nonsense. Presspectiva’s pursuit of this issue is just an attempt to turn a discussion about serious journalistic work into a political discussion.”
Schoken is a publisher whose accessibility to the public is exceptional on the Israeli media scene. It hardly needs to be pointed out that he is eloquent and sharp-tongued. But when asked about the differences between the Hebrew and English coverage of the Elor Azaria affair, our conversation appears to reach a dead end, even becoming a circular argument.
This is how it sounds (with the necessary redactions):
Is it not problematic that in English they refuse to label the Palestinian killed by Azaria a “terrorist”?
“In your opinion what should they call him?”
Why do you need my opinon, I’m telling you what Haaretz‘s Hebrew website calls him. The label is “The soldier who shot a terrorist.”
“The term terrorist is used in the Anglo-Saxon world to refer to those who perpetrate acts like they did in Paris or Belgium, or something similar, right? It’s not used for someone who acted like this soldier. But that doesn’t change anything, since you and I are not experts in English journalistic language as are those who translate [for Haaretz].
“Furthermore, if we are already parsing this issue, then decide: The soldier could have been defined as a “murderer,” and then, in parallel, the Palestinian could have been called a “terrorist.” But here they [unnamed critics] insist the soldier not be labelled a “murderer” or a “cold-blooded killer,” claiming that he should not be judged before the trial is over. And did the terrorist have a trial?”
But there is no dispute that he [the terrorist] stabbed the soldier.
“No dispute? I don’t know if there is no dispute, there was no trial.”
According to Haaretz in Hebrew there is no dispute, there was never such a claim [that he did not really stab a soldier].
“I agree with you, but I would also say that there is no dispute that the soldier killed in cold blood.”
But regarding that there is an ongoing trial.
“So there is a legal process, but there is no dispute that he killed in cold blood. There can be various arguments about his motives, or similar issues, but no dispute about what occurred there.”
But it’s a little difficult to reconcile these two approaches, the consistency of the Hebrew versus the English editions. Perhaps your criticism is of the Hebrew edition?
“There is no need to reconcile. The two versions can coexist and this is acceptable journalism. If the English editorial board decided not to call him a “terrorist” – although I’m not sure that’s correct, since there are examples where they referred to him as an “attacker”– then it’s a legitimate choice in my opinion. I don’t believe this is an indefensible choice.”
“The Haaretz Brand Has More Prestige Internationally”
There is an amusing irony in the second major argument of Haaretz‘s critics, namely, that as one of the only sources of information about Israel in English, the English edition wields a huge influence on world opinion about Israel. Haaretz‘s critics attribute to the newspaper a huge, almost mystical, influence on public world opinion, while Schocken downplays any such influence.
Amiur is convinced that “diplomats, politicians, opinion makers and journalists who cover Israel and the conflict are avid Haaretz readers. I remember when Barak Obama himself said how great it was that Haaretz exists. He said it’s a paper that tells the truth. So the fact is that the U.S. president draws his information about the conflict from the Haaretz English edition, and from him it trickles down. And that is the great problem with the newspaper.”
Yemini’s opinon is similar: “It’s true that today you also have The Times of Israel, and there was always The Jerusalem Post, but when give lectures abroad, no one cites those papers. They cite Haaretz.”
Henrique Cymerman, a veteran journalist covering the Middle East for the Spanish TV channel, Antena 3, and other media outlets, also believes that “the foreign reporters see Haaretz as a publication that expresses a more critical position, and therefore, they are more attuned to it. Haaretz‘s brand has more prestige internationally. If I’m writing an article for a foreign publication and cite, for example, Yediot Achronot, it is less impressive than if I cite Haaretz, which everyone knows.”
As previously stated, Schoken tends to downplay the website’s influence which he claims has more than 18,000 paying subscribers, and 2.5 to 3 million unique monthly users. “These claims are really laughable,” he says. “There are enough websites that do what the government or the state wants them to do. The Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom and Times of Israel. They have readers, though I don’t know the exact numbers, but I don’t see that The Jerusalem Post has fewer followers than we do. I think they have more. So whoever wants can read The Jerusalem Post or Times of Israel and can get a good picture.”
Luke Baker, Reuters’ bureau chief for Israel and th
e Palestinian Authority, likewise, does not ascribe any special influence to Haaretz. “I think these claims were correct 15 to 20 years ago, before the explosion of the Internet and social media. Today if you are a serious journalist, you don’t rely on Haaretz.
“Perhaps there are people who love to read Haaretz, and it’s one of the first places they go to, but the people I know who cover Israel – I don’t see that they rely on Haaretz. As a rule, today a tool like Twitter is far more important for staying up to date about events. There are Channel 10 and Channel 2 journalists who tweet in English too. There are many sources, and people share news, analysis and interpretations that aren’t just from Haaretz.”
Cymerman closes the discussion with what perhaps sharpens the debate over Haaretz’s influence, and maybe the entire discussion: “With all the great complexity [of this debate], you need to understand that for those who wish to attack Israel abroad – including people who don’t want you to confuse them with facts, and they would attack Israel in any case, even if she [Israel] was clean and pure – Haaretz provides an instrument. But at the end of the day, if you ask me if I prefer that there is such an instrument, one that is open and critical – the answer is yes. I do prefer this situation, because this is a democracy”.