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.
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 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Perhaps dead Jews go down better than those alive and
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
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.
is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.