My Word: Open to interpretation

By
November 21, 2013 21:55

I’m sure the now famous UN interpreter, if she still has a job, will keep her mouth shut, and the anti-Israel motions will continue to pass.




United Nations General Assembly

United Nations General Assembly 370 (R). (photo credit:Chip East / Reuters)

I have long appreciated simultaneous interpreters, ever since when I was studying German I heard the (probably apocryphal) story of the UN interpreter translating from that language into English. The unfortunate victim of German’s peculiar sentence structure was caught declaring out loud after a particularly long period of silence: “For God’s sake, man: The verb, the verb!” In December 2008, I even found myself at a UN peace conference in Vienna in the interpreter’s booth, headset on, translating a speech about a wastewater treatment project from Hebrew to English. The speech by an Israeli mayor had been prepared in advance but due to a scheduling change it had to be delivered before it had been translated. Being bilingual and a former environmental affairs reporter, I was asked to step into the breach.

It gave me an added appreciation for the interpreters’ skills. The adrenaline flowed as fast as the words.

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I gave my own talk as part of a panel on the “Prospects for the future of the peace process in the Middle East.” I concluded that the prospects for “the process” weren’t very good and the prospects for real peace – which should be more important than the process – were even worse, but there was some hope for economic growth and stability.

Although the UN, as usual, struggled to preserve an image of impartiality, the feeling of goodwill dissipated early on as the PA’s deputy foreign minister, Almutawakel Taha, took to the floor with a speech that strung together every cliché in the Palestinian narrative, starting with: “The crucifixion continues in Palestine, not only of human beings but of birds, children, trees and houses...”

I still don’t know whether the “and so on and so forth” I heard through my headphones was the literal translation of Taha’s speech or a sign that the simultaneous interpreter couldn’t keep up. If it was the latter, I don’t blame her.

I did complain to one of the organizers that the speech was very far from the truth and could not be considered constructive to the dialogue we were meant to be working on. In soothing tones, the official replied: “Come on, Liat. You know it’s always like this to begin with.”

Apparently, the Israeli side is meant to accept that the Palestinians can say what they like unchallenged. It’s evidently one of those “inalienable rights” they have in UN forums.

THAT’S NOT to say that the UN is entirely unchallenged when it comes to its heavy bias against Israel. Last week, for example, the interpreter I now admire the most said what many of us in Israel had been thinking.

True, she thought she could be heard only by the other simultaneous translators – not by the entire forum of international diplomats and a worldwide webcast audience.

Still, she courageously voiced her thoughts.

On November 14, at the General Assembly committee during which nine anti-Israel resolutions were adopted, the nameless interpreter wondered out loud why it was that Israel was always singled out.

“I mean I think when you have five statements, not five, but like a total of 10 resolutions on Israel and Palestine, there’s gotta be something, c’est un peu trop, non? [It’s a bit much, no?] I mean I know, yes, yes, but there’s other really bad sh*t happening, but no one says anything about the other stuff.”

The brief clip of the incident quickly went viral on the Web, despite its appalling audio quality. Among those who obviously hit “Like” was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who showed it to the weekly cabinet meeting with the words: “I hope nothing bad happens to the interpreter, but in order to remove all doubt I can say that a place of employment is assured her in Israel if things go in that direction.”

As the website of the NGO UN Watch noted, among the many resolutions passed (159 for; 1 against; 11 abstentions) was one condemning Israel for allegedly mistreating Syrian citizens on the Golan Heights and violating their rights under international humanitarian law.

In an act that should leave more than simultaneous interpreters speechless, the UN called on Israel to deliver the Golan Heights, and its residents, to Syrian control “forthwith.”

The august world body did not specify whether Israel should give the area to President Bashar Assad, if he’s not too busy gassing and butchering his own citizens, or to the rebels intent on carrying out a global jihad.

It also did not state what would be the fate of the Jewish residents or the hundreds of Syrian patients being treated in Israeli hospitals for wounds sustained during the bloodbath over the border.

Another motion (164 for; 6 against; 3 abstentions), said it was “gravely concerned about the extremely difficult socioeconomic conditions being faced by the Palestine refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, as a result of the continuing prolonged Israeli closures...”

Note that there is no problem with Syrian refugees – more than a million of them displaced in the last two years – but with the Palestinians, who have carefully preserved their permanent refugee status for more than six decades. Note, also, that there is no mention of the rockets and mortars that were launched by the Palestinians on southern Israel – each one a war crime, aimed indiscriminately at Israeli civilian targets – on the very day this motion was being passed.

Money for missiles, they have. They also have a border with Egypt, admittedly also subjected to extended closures because the Egyptians are similarly concerned about the extremism and terrorism fostered by Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood in Gaza.

The border with Israel is not hermetically sealed, of course. In fact, earlier this week the baby granddaughter of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was transferred to Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tikva for treatment for an acute infection of the digestive tract.

Haniyeh might not want you to tell the members of the BDS movement, who call for a boycott of all things Israeli. And he can rely on the UN not to mention it.

As UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer noted on the group’s site, “by the end of its annual legislative session next month, the General Assembly will have adopted a total of 22 resolutions condemning Israel – and only four on the rest of the world combined.”

That’s not to say that the UN doesn’t care about the Jews. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Auschwitz this week, where he paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.

Perhaps dead Jews go down better than those alive and kicking.

Anyway, by the end of next week it will be business as usual. November 29 marks the UN’s annual “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.” The day reflects the date when the UN adopted the Partition Resolution. It is the date when, in 1947, the UN said Israel had a right to exist, but instead of establishing a Palestinian state, in peace, alongside the Jewish one, the Arab countries decided to try to destroy the nascent Israel.

I’m sure the now famous UN interpreter, if she still has a job, will keep her mouth shut, and the anti-Israel motions will continue to pass – like so much sh*t, to use her less than diplomatic language.

The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.

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