Monday, February 15, 2010

Slay/Kill/Slaughter the Jews

Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon got heckled at the Oxford Union. One heckle was in Arabic. Something along the lines of
IdhbaH al-Yahud
Ayalon's on-the-spot translation was
Slay the Jews
while the heckler himself later claimed he'd said
‘Khaybar, O Jews, we will win'. This is in classical, Qur'anic Arabic and I doubt that apart from picking up on the word ‘Jew', that even the Arabic speakers in the room would have understood the phrase.
Putting aside the fact that this is probably a fairly dodgy sentiment as well, this is quite a tricky story.

The main problem is, as a previous Zionist-heckling incident will show, heckles can be pretty difficult to make out. Also, I'm not sure how reliable Danny Ayalon is as a translator. Firstly, there's his command of Arabic. I know they have to do it at school in Israel, but how long did he do it for and how much has he forgotten? I don't know either way, but the fact that his MK profile lists his languages as "English, Spanish" isn't promising. Secondly, how are his translation skills? Again, no idea either way.

These are the practical issues. Politics comes into it too. How much can he be trusted to give a neutral translation? I sincerely doubt he's just making stuff up, or that he'd plotted to yell "That means kill the Jews!" the moment he heard Arabic. But Israelis are a jumpy lot, when it comes to how they think the rest of the world sees them*. He's also a member of Yisrael Beiteinu, and you generally don't join far-right Nationalist parties these days without believing some fairly fruity stuff about The Muslims and what they want to do to the rest of us. I'm guessing Danny Ayalon is fairly convinced that Muslims, Palestinians and their allies hate Jews literally to death, and that this is at the forefront of his mind when he's dealing with them. He might not have planned to translate "Slay the Jews!", but he'd probably foreseen it coming up.

More to the point, if his Arabic is as patchy as we assume, you have to wonder where he learned it. You probably don't have classes on anti-Semitic heckles at Israeli secondary schools. But it's amazing how much Arabic you can learn just by reading anti-Islamic blogs. Dhimmi, jihad, hudna, kuffar, idhbaH al-yahud, fitna, they crop up a lot. And as deputy foreign minister of Israel and as someone worried about Arabs, he probably reads a lot of articles about anti-Semitism in the Muslim world. I imagine he comes across "Slay the Jews!" in Arabic a lot. Obscure classical phrases less so. Even if he'd never had a single lesson of Arabic in his life, he might well recognise that phrase and others like it. So it's quite possible, and quite understandable, that if he heard "something-baa al-yahud" he'd assume "idhbah" and not "khaybar".

Of course, it's early days. I wasn't there. On the video, the man seems to be shouting in English (apparently he's a war criminal like Milosevic and will be tried as such) and I didn't hear anything to do with al-yahud. So it seems a bit weird that all the reports I've read are trusting an off-the-cuff translation done amid lots of shouting over what the guy actually claims to have said.

*Lord knows where a country full of Jews would get such a persecution complex.