International

Lost in translation

Apparently it started with Reuters or the BBC, but now it has gone everywhere. A typical version, like this one in The Telegraph runs:

A senior Israeli politician provoked controversy today when he warned that Palestinians firing rockets from Gaza would be punished with a “bigger holocaust” from Israeli armed forces. The use of the Hebrew word for holocaust, “shoah”, tends to be used exclusively in Israel to describe the Nazi persecution of Jews.

But this is based on a very unfortunate mistranslation. By way of illustration, one might say that a German advertising campaign using the word “blitz” (which simply means ‘lightning’) might not go down well in London.

In this case, the controversy was over the use of the word “shoah”, which in Hebrew means simply “a disaster”. When a native Hebrew means to speak of ‘The Holocaust’ the term is “Ha-Shoah”.

Melanie Phillips explains more fully in The Spectator:

Reuters translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.

Well, it certainly makes a good story: the offspring of The Holocaust apparently threatening to commit one of their own. But it is dangerous nonsense that will certainly inflame a volatile situation. Already Palestinian press caries headlines like “Israeli ministers call for genocide in Gaza“.

The enthusiasm for repeating this story is quite disturbing. In contrast to Iranian President Ahmadinijad’s comments where the media argued endlessly about whether it meant “wiped from the map” or “wiped from the page of history”, this mild ambiguity did not change the essence of what he meant to convey – especially in the context in which he was speaking: nuclear weapons. Still, commentators fought to give him the benefit of the doubt. This courtesy has not been extended to the Israeli minister, even after the confusion was urgently clarified. Again in contrast, Ahmadinijad was never asked to clarify his words. His apologists did all the talking… and this despite the “wiped off the map” being the official translation presented by IRNA, the Iranian State news agency.

At the end of the day, it is fair to say that this unfortunatle turn of phrase is the antisemite’s wet dream. The reason that this “shoah” has been picked up, is because there’s a common perception that Israel is, or is going to commit, genocide against the Palestinians. This one is destined to become an appendix to The Protocols

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