09 January 2010

Checking the Facts: A Job That Never Ends

The NewsBlog recently received an email complaining about some of the background information in a story by reporter Robert Berger, who files for VOA from Israel. The item, headlined “Israel Says Iran Close to Nuclear Capability”, included a sentence intended to explain Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. That sentence said: “Israel is alarmed by … previous threats by its [Iran's] president to wipe the Jewish state ‘off the map.’”

The email writer contends: “This phrase (from an October 2005 speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) is a proven propaganda hoax..” And he cites a couple of references to back up his claim. One is a column in the Guardian newspaper by Jonathan Steele:

“…The remarks are not out of context. They are wrong, pure and simple. Ahmadinejad never said them. Farsi speakers have pointed out that he was mistranslated. 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.”

I searched around and discovered an actual transcript of the speech. The text of the speech was posted online, in Persian, and the English version I found was translated by Nazila Fathi of The New York Times Tehran bureau.

Its says that Mr. Ahmadinejad was in fact quoting Ayatollah Khomeini. But it also makes clear the phrase “wiped off the map” was used:

“Our dear Imam said that the occupying regime must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine. Is it possible to create a new front in the heart of an old front. This would be a defeat and whoever accepts the legitimacy of this regime [Israel] has in fact, signed the defeat of the Islamic world. Our dear Imam targeted the heart of the world oppressor in his struggle, meaning the occupying regime. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world.”

Our email writer asks for a correction of the original Berger report, stating: “Ahmadinejad is no friend of the Israeli government, but I'm sure you'll agree his comments have been dangerously misrepresented in your article.”

The Managing Editor of VOA’s Central News Division, which issued the item, has decided against a correction, saying the editors stand by the story. I concur with that decision. This is because the preponderance of evidence supports our emailer’s own acknowledgement that “Ahmadinejad is no friend of the Israeli government…”

Here is some evidence of that (and these excerpts are drawn from reliable translations of the original Farsi):

--From the text of address by Mr. Ahmadinejad at an emergency meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in Malaysia on 3 August, 2006:

“It is obvious that this regime is fake and lacks legal legitimacy…The existence of this regime is an ongoing humiliation of all the nations... The ultimate cure is the elimination of the Zionist regime… unrest, threats, and distrust will continue unless that regime is uprooted.”

-- From a speech by President Ahmadinejad at a meeting of foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries, plus Egypt, in Tehran on July 8, 2006:

“…the accumulated energy of every single member [of the Islamic world], the pure hearts, the steady strides, the strong wills and the clenched fists of the people of the region are an immense support for getting rid of the Zionist [regime]… There is no logical reason for the continuation of the life of this regime [Israel].”

Eliminate Israel. Uproot Israel. Get rid of Israel. Seems consistent with saying it should be “wiped off the map.”

We stand by the story.