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BBC Slammed for mistranslating 'Yahudi' as 'Israeli'

The BBC has defended its translation of the Arabic word Yahudi (Jew) as "Israeli" in its recent documentary film One Day in Gaza.

North West Friends of Israel in the UK expressed dismay on Tuesday after BBC Two aired a program titled One Day in Gaza and mistranslated the word "Yahudi," which means "Jew," as "Israeli."

"When Palestinians use the word 'Yahud' [sic] they mean 'Jew.' It does not mean Israeli," the NW Friends of Israel Twitter account said. "Why do you mistranslate 'Yahud?' Are you scared of showing that Palestinians want to kill Jews?"

A section of the BBC program includes in interview with a young Palestinian man who uses the term "Yahud" in Arabic three times and in each instance it appears in in a subtitled translation as "Israelis."

Writer David Collier also wondered about the translation, claiming that the program was "being deliberately deceptive." He asserted that the Arab interviewee had said "Jew" in Arabic and meant "Jew."

In 2015 a similar controversy took place where a young Gazan had used the term "Yahud" (Jews) and the BBC had also translated it as "Israel." After an inquiry in 2015, the BBC responded that "we took advice from a number of translators in Gaza and London and were advised that the most accurate interpretation of what the contributors were saying in this context was 'Israeli.'" But Sussex Friends of Israel pointed out at the time that the BBC had written in a separate article that "Al Yahud is Arabic for 'the Jew.'" In that instance a council candidate in Derby had called Ed Miliband "Al Yahud."

Contemporary Arabic media does not use the term "Yahud" to refer to Israel.

A quick look online reveals that the term Yahud is often used by anti-Israel social media platforms as a stand-in for "Jews." For instance one Twitter account in 2012 notes "Even is [sic] Palestinians stopped sending rockets into Israel and agreed to everything, the yahud would still look for reasons to wipe them out." In another instance a Palestinian claimed he couldn't get a fair treatment from Israeli police, claiming "Yahud always lie." A video posted online on February 10 also shows protesters in Gaza shouting "Khaibar, Khaibar, ya Yahud, Jaish Mohammed, sa yahud," which is a religious extremist chant meaning "Jews, remember Khaibar, the army of Mohammed is returning." The chant refers to a Muslim massacre of Jews in 628 CE. It would be similar to Christians chanting "you Jews, listen, the Crusader army of Christ is returning." In neither context does "Jews" properly translate as "Israelis," but is specifically meant to denote Jews.


When Palestinians use the word "Yahudi," they mean "Jew."

Twitter is full of examples of this. On May 7, 2019, a woman tweeted in response to an article about Israel "Khaibar khaibar ya yahud, jaaisytu [sic] Muhammd Sawfa Ya'ud. Israel is international terrorist." It is clear that for many using the term "Yahud" against Jews is part of their religious extremist worldview in which the Jews of Israel are targeted for attack for being Jews, not for being Israelis. Other videos show the same "Khaibar, Khaibar" anti-Jewish religious chant at rallies.

Others on Twitter expressed dismay with the "serious error," that BBC made, while some went further in their condemnation. "It is not an error. It is deliberate misleading the viewer to conceal Jew hate in Gaza and in the rest of the Arab world," wrote on activist on Twitter under the handle @wealdengirl.

Arabic media throughout the Middle East does not use the term "Yahud" to refer to Israel, but rather "Israel" written in Arabic letters. On any day numerous articles at newspaper like Al-Ghad in Jordan illustrate this. Even Hamas writes "Israel" in its official press release for media, not "Yahud."

Yahud is translated as "Jew" in almost every other circumstance by major media. For instance, a doctor accused of making antisemitic comments was fired in January. "She tweeted that she would 'puposely give all the yahood [sic] the wrong meds,' using the Arabic word, Yahud, which means Jews," NBC noted.

The mistranslation solely in the Gaza context appears to represent an unwillingness to even ask the interviewees what they mean by using the term "Yahud" interchangeably with Jew and Israeli. Do they mean all Israelis or only Jews in Israel? Do they refer to Muslim Bedouin in the Negev, who are Israeli citizens, as "Yahud" or only what they perceive to be Israeli Jewish soldiers? The frequency of religious-inspired chants, such as "Khaibar, Khaibar, ya Yahud" clearly implies a religious anti-Jewish milieu.

Hatred of Jews by extremist movements, including Hamas, is common in the Middle East. Hamas, for instance, includes antisemitic conspiracies in its charter, including claims that "the Jews" were behind the French and Russian revolutions.

Similarly the Houthi rebels in Yemen blend religious hatred of Jews into their political program. "Death to Israel, curse the Jews" is part of their official slogan. They use both the term "Israel" and "Yahud" in Arabic, illustrating that it is relatively clear in Arabic to distinguish the two, and two openly express hatred for both. This illustrates compelling evidence that the term "Yahud" is meant solely in the context of "Jews," not "Israelis." At the very least it would appear the viewer should understand that Yahud means Jew and that it could also mean Israeli, as opposed to only providing "Israel" as the sole translation.

Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post's op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

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