Robert Mackey writes: In a reminder that Persian rhetoric is not always easy for English-speakers to interpret, a senior Israeli official has acknowledged that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never actually said that Israel “must be wiped off the map.”
Those words were attributed to Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005, in English translations of his speech to a “World Without Zionism” conference that October. As my colleague Ethan Bronner reported the next year, one problem was translating a metaphorical turn of phrase in Persian that has no exact English equivalent — there was, for instance, no mention of a map — and there was a heated debate about whether the original statement was a threat or a prediction.
Last week, Teymoor Nabili of Al Jazeera suggested during an interview with Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical flourish had been misinterpreted. “This idea that Iran wants to wipe Israel out,” Mr. Nabili said, “now that’s a common trope that is put about by a lot of people in Israel, a lot of people in the United States, but as we know Ahmadinejad didn’t say that he plans to exterminate Israel, nor did he say that Iran’s policy is to exterminate Israel.”
In response, Mr. Meridor said that Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran’s ruling cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had said repeatedly “that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out,’ you’re right, but, ‘It will not survive.’ ”
Mr. Meridor also pointed out that Iran’s leaders have continued to deny Israel’s right to exist and used highly inflammatory terms to describe the state. After Ayatollah Khamenei compared Israel to a cancerous tumor in February — adding, it “should be cut off” — Mr. Meridor noted those remarks were echoed by the president just last month. “Israel is unnatural, it will not exist, it’s on the verge of collapse,” Mr. Meridor said. “When you hear this from these people, you need to take it seriously.”
As the Guardian columnist Jonathan Steele explained in 2006, a more direct translation of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks would be: “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,” echoing a statement once made by the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. [Continue reading…]