« Of AFP and Medical Documentation | Main | Where's the Coverage? State-Sanctioned Police Brutality in the Middle East »

April 18, 2012

Hidden in Translation: Robert Mackey Comes to Ahmadinejad's Aid


As if Robert Mackey hasn't already left a clear record of his anti-Israel bias, the blogger is now misleadingly cherry-picking his own New York Times colleagues — in order to defend Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, no less.

A few days ago, an Israeli minister blundered into the debate about how best to interpret Ahmadinejad's most well-known call to eliminate Israel. The official, Dan Meridor, concurred with an interviewer on Al Jazeera that Iranian leaders "didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out,’ you’re right, but, ‘It will not survive.’"

Predictably, Mackey was quick to pounce, titling a piece on his blog "Israeli Minister Agrees Ahmadinejad Never Said Israel ‘Must Be Wiped Off the Map.’"

According to Mackey,

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. More important, closer readings of the phrase suggested that the original statement was less of a threat than a prediction.

Bronner may have asserted that Ahmadinejad didn't use the exact word for map. But his bottom line seemed to be the very opposite of what Mackey writes. The Iranian president's statement was more a threat than a prediction. In the piece Mackey links to, but apparently hopes nobody will read, Bronner reports:

Jonathan Steele, a columnist for the left-leaning Guardian newspaper in London, recently laid out the case this way: "The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran's first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that 'this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,' just as the Shah's regime in Iran had vanished. He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The 'page of time' phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon."

Mr. Steele added that neither Khomeini nor Mr. Ahmadinejad suggested that Israel's "vanishing" was imminent or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about. "But the propaganda damage was done," he wrote, "and Western hawks bracket the Iranian president with Hitler as though he wants to exterminate Jews."

If Mr. Steele and Mr. [Juan] Cole are right, not one word of the quotation — Israel should be wiped off the map — is accurate.

But translators in Tehran who work for the president's office and the foreign ministry disagree with them. All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement, including a description of it on his Web site (, refer to wiping Israel away. Sohrab Mahdavi, one of Iran's most prominent translators, and Siamak Namazi, managing director of a Tehran consulting firm, who is bilingual, both say "wipe off" or "wipe away" is more accurate than "vanish" because the Persian verb is active and transitive.

And so yet again, Mackey misleads his readers.

May 22, 2013 Update: In our initial posting, we forgot to quote Bronner's most explicit conclusion about what Ahmadinejad said: "So did Iran's president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so. Did that amount to a call for war? That remains an open question."

Posted by GI at April 18, 2012 09:24 AM


It says a lot about the NYT that they are willing to print rubbish defining what Ahmadinejad actually said, but are more than willing to continue printing rubbish that claims Israel is an Apartheid state, or that Zionism is some form of racism, or that building within Area B is infringing on some never agreed upon (by the Palestinians) Palestinian state, or that Israel is occupying Gaza, etc, etc, and so forth.

Posted by: Asher Garber at April 18, 2012 01:52 PM

Mr. Mackey is parsing the words, typical of most who try to defend the undefensible. Whether the idiom is "wipe off the map" or "vanish from the pages of history" is irrelevant; the sentiment is the same. The Iranians' desired and oft-stated goal is to eliminate Israel.

Perhaps it is too unrealistic to expect Mr Mackey to be able to pour water out of a boot, even with the "how-to" instructions printed on the heel.

Were he to accomplish this challenge, that would not disprove my claims to his minimal intelligence.

Posted by: Ben N at April 18, 2012 05:40 PM

This controversy has been effervescing since 2005? I am sure that Mr. Ahmadinejad is shocked and chagrined that his words have been mistranslated, and abused to vilify the historically peaceful state of Iran.

Surely Mr. Ahmadinejad doesn't need the likes of Mr. Mackey and his cohorts to speak for him. Surely Mr. Ahmadinejad, himself, has commented, published, clarified somewhere in the media, somewhere in public, at some point in the last 7 years, what exactly he MEANT, in clear, unambiguous terms, so as to end this controversy and libel against himself and his administration.

Surely he has, hash't he?

Hasn't he??

Posted by: William Bilek at April 21, 2012 08:51 AM

New comments by the former Spanish prime minister Jose Aznar make it clear that Iranian supreme leader Khamenei did speak of physical termination of Israel through military force. Details at and

Posted by: Michael Segal at May 17, 2012 11:16 AM

Guidelines for posting

This is a moderated blog. We will not post comments that include racism, bigotry, threats, or factually inaccurate material.

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)