MEMRI and its Mickey Mouse translation

Over the last few days, the mainstream media has been making a mountain out of the Hamas Mouse Hill. Yigal Carmon, president and founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), went on air on the Glenn Beck show to say that he stood by the translation. He even complained that there were no Arabic speakers willing to debate with him about MEMRI’s translation.

Well, here’s what Ali Alarabi, a member of CNN’s Arabic desk had to say about MEMRI’s translation:

Was MEMRI actually playing verbal gymnastics? Yes indeed.
The issue here is not simply some error in the translation of this word or that, but actually making new words up and putting them in the mouth of that child to show defamatory evidence against the Palestinians.

MEMRI which stands for Middle East Media Research Institute was established by former Israeli intelligence agents, the Mossad, to police Arabic media for any evidence of anti-Israeli rhetoric.

Yegal… head of MEMRI was interviewed on CNN’S Glen Beck on his radio show and assured Beck that he stands by his translation and blasted CNN’s Arabic desk (which I am a member of) and Octavia Nasr head of the desk for uncovering the forgery by claiming that CNN’s Arabic desk do not know Arabic and they are “hiding” while he is on the other hand out there ready and willing to debate and challenge anyone for his version of the translation.

In my professional opinion, MEMRI’s “translation” is not credible and flat out forgery.

But don’t just take his word for it, here’s a full transcript, courtesy of Professor As’ad Abu Khalil from The Angry Arab News Service:

Black text: Arabic Transcript.
Blue text: Arabic transcript written in English alphabet.
Green text: My English translation.
Red text: MEMRI’s English translation.
Highlighted red text: Wrong MEMRI English translation.
سراء: سنابل، إنتي شو حتعملي .. يعني .. من أجل الأقصى؟ شو حتفدي .. يعني روحك من أجل الأقصى؟ شو حتعملي؟
Sarraa’: Sanabel, enti shoo hate’mali … ya’ni … min ajl el-Aqsa? Shoo hatefdi … ya’ni roohek min ajl el-Aqsa? Shoo hate’mali?
Sarraa’: Sanabel, what are you going to do … like … for the sake of Al Aqsa? What are you going to sacrifice … like your soul for the sake of Al-Aqsa? What are you going to do?
MEMRI: Sanabel, what will you do for the sake of the Al-Aqsa Mosque? How will you sacrifice your soul for the sake of Al-Aqsa? What will you do?
فرفور: حطـُـخ.
Farfour: Hatokh.
Farfour: I will shoot.
سنابل: بدي أرسم صورة.
Sanabel: B’di arsem soora.
Sanabel: I’m going to draw a picture.
MEMRI: I will shoot
فرفور: إيش حنعمل يعني كيف إحنا بدنا يا سنابل إنحرر ..
Farfour: Aish hane’mal ya’ni kaif ehna bedna ya sanabel enharrer …
Farfour: What are we going to do … Sanabel, like how are we going to liberate …
MEMRI: Sanabel, what should we do if we want to liberate…
سنابل: بدنا انقاوم.
Sanabel: Bedna enqawem.
Sanabel: We are going to resist.
MEMRI: We want to fight.
فرفور: و بعدين؟ هادي حفظناها و بعدين؟
Farfour: Wo ba’dain? Hadi hfeznaha, wo ba’dain?
Farfour: Then what? We already know this one, then what?
MEMRI: We got that. What else?
سراء: إحنا بدنا..
Sarraa’: Ehna bedna …
Sarraa’: We are going to …
MEMRI: We want to…
سنابل: بطخّونا اليهود.
Sanabel: Betokhoona el yahood.
Sanabel: The Jews will shoot us.
MEMRI:We will annihilate the Jews.
سراء: إحنا بدنا اندافع عن الأقصى بأرواحنا و بدمائنا، ولاّ لأ يا سنابل؟
Sarraa’: Ehna bedna endafe’ an el-Aqsa b arwa7na wo b dema2na, wella la’ ya Sanabel?
Sarraa’: We are going to defend Al-Aqsa with our souls and blood, or are we not Sanabel?
MEMRI: We are defending Al-Aqsa with our souls and our blood, aren’t we, Sanabel?
سنابل(صوت غير واضح): بدي استشهد
( أو – سنابل: باستشهد )
( أو – سنابل: بنستشهد )
Sanabel (audio not clear): Bdi astash-hed.
( Or – Sanabel: Bastash-hed )
( Or – Sanabel: Bnastash-hed )
Sanabel (audio not clear): I’m going to become a martyr. [Literally: I want to become a martyr]
( Or – Sanabel: I’ll become a martyr )
( Or – Sanabel: We’ll become martyrs )
MEMRI: I will commit martyrdom.

Meanwhile, Brian Whitaker, at the Guardian Comment is free website, also smelt a rat and it wasn’t Farfour. He agreed that the show had been mistranslated and went on to point out:

Memri, the “research institute” which specialises in translating portions of the Arabic media into English, has issued a video clip from a children’s programme on Hamas TV in which it claims that a Palestinian girl talked of becoming a suicide bomber and annihilating the Jews.

Memri – described by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman as “invaluable” – supplies translations free of charge to journalists, politicians and others, particularly in the US.

Though Memri claims to be “independent” and maintains that it does not “advocate causes or take sides”, it is run by Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence. Carmon’s partner in setting up Memri was Meyrav Wurmser who in 1996 was one of the authors of the now-infamous “Clean Break” document which proposed reshaping Israel’s “strategic environment” in the Middle East, starting with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

…Among those misled by Memri’s “translation” was Glenn Beck of CNN, who had planned to run it on his radio programme, until his producer told him to stop. Beck informed listeners this was because CNN’s Arabic department had found “massive problems” with it.

Instead of broadcasting the tape, Beck then invited Carmon on to the programme and gave him a platform to denounce CNN’s Arabic department, and in particular to accuse one of its staff, Octavia Nasr, of being ignorant about the language.

Carmon related a phone conversation he had had with Ms Nasr:

She said the sentence where it says [in Memri's translation] “We are going to … we will annihilate the Jews”, she said: “Well, our translators hear something else. They hear ‘The Jews are shooting at us’.”

I said to her: “You know, Octavia, the order of the words as you put it is upside down. You can’t even get the order of the words right. Even someone who doesn’t know Arabic would listen to the tape and would hear the word ‘Jews’ is at the end, and also it means it is something to be done to the Jews, not by the Jews.”

And she insisted, no the word is in the beginning. I said: “Octavia, you just don’t get it. It is at the end” … She didn’t know one from two, I mean.

Carmon’s words succeeded in bamboozling Glenn “Israel shares my values” Beck, who told him: “This is amazing to me … I appreciate all of your efforts. I appreciate what you do at Memri, it is important work.”

It was indeed amazing, because in defending Memri’s translation, Carmon took issue not only with CNN’s Arabic department but also with all the Arabic grammar books. The word order in a typical Arabic sentence is not the same as in English: the verb comes first and so a sentence in Arabic which literally says “Are shooting at us the Jews” means “The Jews are shooting at us”.

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4 Responses to “MEMRI and its Mickey Mouse translation”

  • Thanks for posting this. I have been following MEMRI for some time, but somehow this had escaped my notice.

  • As a student of Arabic, I just have to defend and say that the meaning of the sentence is ambiguous. Jews could either be the subject or the object. But in MEMRI’s defense, it would not make sense in the contect for Jews to be the subject. The question asked was, “What are you/we going to do?”… which implies the response involves doing something, not having something done to.

  • If you read the post you’ll see that at least three Arabic experts have said that MEMRI’s translation is wrong. That there is no ambiguity.

    However, you as a ‘student of arabic’ are claiming that there is.

    So I guess the only question is: where is it exactly that you’re learning Arabic? Is it the MEMRI Institute for Bare Faced Lying, perhaps?

  • for crying out loud, there is no ambiguity here.

    The phrase is “Betokhoona el yahood.”
    “Betokhoo” means “will shoot”. “Na” means “us”. “el yahood” is “the Jews”. The subject is “the Jews”, and the object is “us”.

    “na” at the end of a verb means “us” as an object, not “them”, which would be “hom”. What is there to argue about?

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