News – Political Mistranslation

Mistranslation can have serious repercussions, as the Spectator notes today. Israel’s deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai was quoted as predicting a ‘bigger holocaust’ in Hamas-controlled Gaza, an incendiary remark. However, Vilnai never said it. The word he used was ‘shoah’, conventionally translated as ‘disaster’. In Hebrew, ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ because of the historical connotations; only the word ‘Hashoah’ means ‘the Holocaust’. The mistranslation originated with Reuters, but was reproduced by the BBC as well as Hamas for its own purposes. With this in mind, Melanie Phillips in the Spectator argues that ‘such a mistranslation is more than an unfortunate slip. In the present explosive atmosphere, it can lead directly to an enormous escalation of violence’.