To some extent, the confusion that followed Iran’s latest round of anti-Israel invective is understandable. Incoming Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said one thing. The Iranian media, which transmitted Rouhani’s message to the West, added its own embellishments. And when video emerged of the statement, those who trusted the Iranian press to accurately quote an Iranian official discovered that they should not have.
Multiple Iranian news organizations had initially reported Rouhani as saying that “Israel is a wound on the body of the world of Islam that must be destroyed.”
But on video, he is seen saying that “in our region, it is an old wound that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world, in the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds.”
Enter The New York Times. Its initial report about the translations and mistranslations stated, wrongly, that the incoming president “struck a more moderate tone, by merely calling the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands ‘a sore.’”
Of course, the journalists had no way of knowing that Rouhani’s comments were meant “merely” as a reference to Israel’s presence in the West Bank. On the contrary, Iranian officialdom considers all of Israel to be “Palestinian land,” so while Rouhani didn’t use the word “Israel” — even mentioning the country’s name would be a controversial act in official Iran — there is no reason to believe he was referring to anything other than the entirety of Israel as a sore. Rouhani’s statement might not have been explicit, but it was not especially ambiguous, either.
The initial version of the New York Times story similarly cast Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as mistranslated and misunderstood. It stated,
In 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad was famously quoted as saying Israel must be “wiped off the map,” during a conference called “A world without Zionism.” While it later became clear from tapes of his remarks that he had actually said “Israel must vanish from the pages of history,” it made his international image as a staunch anti-Semitic hard-liner.
But the first quote was correct. The newspaper itself had made this clear in an article several years ago. Two translators consulted by Times correspondent Ethan Bronner explained in 2006 that “‘wipe off’ or ‘wipe away’ is more accurate than ‘vanish’ because the Persian verb is active and transitive.” (One slight difference between what Ahmadinejad said and how he was quoted was that he had Israel being wiped off the “stage of time,” where as in English this idiom was rendered as “the map.”)
Error (New York Times Web site, Thomas Erdbrink and Jodi Rudoren, 8/2/13): But on Friday, the country’s incoming president, Hassan Rowhani, struck a more moderate tone, by merely calling the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands “a sore.”Correction (Updated story, print story, 8/3/13): … Mr. Rouhani told state television that “a sore has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years,” a reference to Israel.
Error (New York Times Web site, Thomas Erdbrink and Jodi Rudoren, 8/2/13): In 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad was famously quoted as saying Israel must be “wiped off the map,” during a conference called “A world without Zionism.” While it later became clear from tapes of his remarks that he had actually said “Israel must vanish from the pages of history,” it made his international image as a staunch anti-Semitic hard-liner.
Correction (Updated Web story, print story, 8/3/13): Mr. Rouhani, who has sought to portray himself as a moderate, did not use the most inflammatory anti-Israeli invective sometimes heard from other Iranian leaders, most notably Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called Israel a cancerous tumor, a virus and an aberration that should be expunged from history.