With A Corrected Mistranslation, Even The Guardian Looks Good Relative to the BBC

Cross posted from the blog of CAMERA

Earlier this month, CAMERA’s BBC Watch and UK Media Watch ran interesting pieces discussing mistranslations by the BBC and The Guardian, respectively.

It’s worth comparing those two posts looking way the British news organizations handled complaints about their mistranslations, in part because The Guardian, which is generally one of the more anti-Israel English-language newspapers around, in this case bested the BBC when it came to grasping the importance of precise translations and of correcting errors.


The Guardian initially claimed in an editorial that

In a small but perhaps encouraging sign, President Rouhani, in his statement welcoming the deal, referred to Israel by its name, rather than as “the Zionist entity”.

After UK Media Watch informed the Guardian that this was not true, the newspaper quickly and commendably fixed its mistake and published a correction explaining that

This article was amended on 15 July 2015. An earlier version said President Rouhani, in his statement welcoming the deal, referred to Israel by its name, rather than as “the Zionist entity.” In fact he did not refer to Israel by its name, but as “the Zionist usurper regime.”


Like the Guardian, the BBC also plugged the word “Israel” into a translation of a statement that didn’t actually include the word. Likewise, what was actually said was telling.

As reported in Britain’s The Jewish Chronicle,

A BBC documentary has substituted the word “Israelis” for “Jews” in its translation of interviews with Palestinians, its maker has admitted.

Lyse Doucet has stood by the decision to translate “yahud” as “Israeli” in subtitles on her hour-long documentary Children of the Gaza War, which airs on BBC Two tonight.

The correct translation for “yahud” from Arabic to English is “Jew.”

The BBC’s chief international correspondent said that Gazan translators had advised her that Palestinian children interviewed on the programme who refer to “the Jews” actually meant Israelis.

In one instance, a Gazan child says the “yahud” are massacring Palestinians. However the subtitles read: “Israel is massacring us.”

Canada-born Ms Doucet said: “We talked to people in Gaza, we talked to translators. When [the children] say ‘Jews,’ they mean ‘Israelis.’

BBC Watch explained that this was not the first time the media giant replaced Palestinian “Jews” with “Israelis,” and recounted that, after a complaint about the switch, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee in 2013 did not correct the mistranslation, and in fact went so far as to justify the practice, saying that “Israel” is what the speaker was “most likely referring to.”

Let’s assume the very best case: That the Palestinians who said “yahud” really did mean Israelis, notwithstanding the many examples of straightforwardly, explicitly anti-Jewish rhetoric in Palestinian society and the wider Arab world.

Even in this case, words matter. (Look again at the idea behind The Guardian‘s erroneous claim: “In a small but perhaps encouraging sign, President Rouhani…referred to Israel by its name, rather than as ‘the Zionist entity.'” Words matter.)

If its true that Palestinian children conflate “the Jews” and “Israel” in their language, this matters — and news consumers seeking to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict should know about it. If Palestinian parents and educators generally don’t teach that “Jew” means something broader than “Israeli,” then again, this matters, and BBC viewers should understand this reality.

And the truth is, reporters don’t generally assume the very best case. When an Israeli rabbi used terribly ugly language in reference to “the Arabs,” the BBC (and others) didn’t look into the rabbi’s mind, determine what he “most likely” meant, and tell readers that he was slurring “terrorists,” which is what the rabbi later insisted he was speaking about. Or to take a more recent example, the BBC (and others) has no problem referring to Donald Trump’s “disparaging remarks made about Mexicans” — not about Mexican immigrants, which is who he was referring to, or “bad” Mexican immigrants, which one might argue is what he meant. Trump’s comments are controversial because what people say, the form their words take, and the potential effect of the words on those listening, are thought to matter.

At least in this case, the Guardian understood that, and the BBC did not.

7 replies »

  1. I am thinking of having a direct line installed in my computer that links me to the complaints team at the BBC. I have now lost count of the number of times I have challenged them on their disinformation about Israel.

    Doucet mistranslates ‘Yahud’ to ‘Israeli’ throughout her documentary Children Of The Gaza War in the first week of July. Just this week filmmaker Adam Wishart [who is Jewish, a fact I state because somehow I expected ‘more’ from him] mistranslates ‘Yahud’ to ‘soldier.’

    Both mistranslations deliberately conceal the innate antisemitism that Arabs and Palestinians engage in. The BBC sugarcoats antisemitism and it affects all areas of Jewish life. Any bias shown by the media fuels and justifies the BDS and other anti Israel supporters to hurl abuse at Jews in Gay Pride marches or going about their everyday business.

    Because the BBC stand by their decision with their mistranslation in Doucet’s film, when I witnessed the mistranslation repeated in Wishart’s documentary I had just about had enough. Going straight to the source rather than the BBC I emailed the filmmaker and we had heated exchanges on twitter. I sent him a long detailed critique [just before Honest Reporting’s article was posted online – theirs is far more articulate than mine] inviting Wishart to meet with the Jewish community and thrash out why we feel so angry and betrayed. I also offered him the opportunity to make another film to remedy the errors in his first.

    He finally responded Wishart informs me that I do not speak for the majority of the Jewish people and that he has received ‘overwhelming commendations’ for his film from the Jewish community. He refutes any criticisms that I made and will not be creating another documentary to remedy the wrongs.

    I feel dismissed and demoralised. But I won’t stop emailing the BBC. However, enough is enough. The Train That Divides Jerusalem was my tipping point.

  2. In a recent speech David Cameron explicitly referred to antisemitic speech as some people’s starting point towards violent Islamism. Perhaps the BBC should be more careful to be accurate in this area, given that they are already under attack from the Conservatives.

  3. Given that none of the UK media outlets refer to Al-Q, Boko Haram, Hezbollah or IS as terrorists but instead use the politically correct words “extremist” or “militants” I suppose its a bit much to expect them to translate yahud as Jew.

  4. The best and most accurate translation for “Yahud” is “Jew.” A good translation for the expression “sinking lower and lower day by day” is “BBC.” Kids in Gaza are taught to hate Jews. They hate Jews. They know it, the Israelis know it, everyone knows it, because they are educated by an organization that is deeply and quite openly anti-Semitic, but the information age imperialist fatheads at BBC think they can hide it.

    • “Fatheads” is a term of ‘sizeist’ abuse.
      You should be ashamed, deeply ashamed, for using it.

      • I wasn’t referring to the size but rather the substance with which those heads are filled.

        • Then I apologise for misunderstanding the substance of your post.
          However I feel I should point out to you that those at the BBC do not have any fat between their ears. There is no room as between their ears is already full of shit!