The history – and the BBC Trust decision – behind Lyse Doucet’s mistranslation of ‘yahud’

An article which appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on July 8th has been making waves on social media and in the blogosphere. Reporter Sandy Rashty revealed that:translation

“A BBC documentary has substituted the word “Israelis” for “Jews” in its translation of interviews with Palestinians, its maker has admitted.

Lyse Doucet has stood by the decision to translate “yahud” as “Israeli” in subtitles on her hour-long documentary Children of the Gaza War, which airs on BBC Two tonight.

The correct translation for “yahud” from Arabic to English is “Jew”.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent said that Gazan translators had advised her that Palestinian children interviewed on the programme who refer to “the Jews” actually meant Israelis.

In one instance, a Gazan child says the “yahud” are massacring Palestinians. However the subtitles read: “Israel is massacring us”.

Canada-born Ms Doucet said: “We talked to people in Gaza, we talked to translators. When [the children] say ‘Jews’, they mean ‘Israelis’.

“We felt it was a better translation of it.”

She added: “We checked this again yesterday.

“We are not trying to cover it up – we took advice on it and that was the advice we were given by translators.””

Anyone toying with the idea of making a complaint to the BBC on this issue should be aware that this is not the first time that the BBC has mistranslated the Arabic word ‘yahud’. In February 2013 the same issue arose in a series of multi-platform reports by Jon Donnison – the BBC’s Gaza correspondent at the time.

“Another version of the same story was also featured on Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme on February 26th […]. In that version, at 43:37, one can hear a translator interpret the words of interviewee Nour Adwan as “If we meet an Israeli and they are speaking in Hebrew..”.  Sharp eared listeners will notice that the fifteen year-old actually says the word “Yahud” – Jew – in Arabic rather than “Israeli”, but for some reason, the BBC chose to modify that in translation.” 

A member of the public submitted a complaint concerning that obvious mistranslation and in October 2013 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee produced a decision which raised some very interesting issues concerning its interpretation of the BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy.

The ECU wrote: [all emphasis added]

“The Committee considered that the decision to translate the girl’s words as “an Israeli” was an appropriate exercise of editorial judgement. In taking this view the Committee emphasised that no interpretation of the Editorial Guidelines requires content producers to make direct word-for-word translations without also taking account of relevant context.”


“The Committee noted that the programme did not deny the distinction between “Jews” and “Israelis”, but that in this context it felt that it would be misleading not to give the audience a clearer picture of whom the girl was most likely referring to and that a literal translation would not necessarily have achieved that.”

The crucial part of that ECU decision comes in the following paragraph:

“The Committee accepted that the main editorial purpose of this news item was to report that Hamas schools were teaching children Hebrew as “the language of the enemy”. The programme-makers, based on their professional judgement, understood the enemy in this case to be Israel, and the Committee understood the reasons why the programme felt it was important to communicate that clearly.” 

As was noted here at the time:

“In other words, the programme-makers’ “professional judgement” led them to believe that Hamas makes a distinction between Israelis (the enemy) and Jews (not the enemy) and intended by means of this translation distortion to clarify that. 

Apparently that “professional judgement” has never come across the antisemitic themes which dominate the Hamas Charter or the words of Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar from 2009, for example.

“The Zionists have legitimised the killing of their children by killing our children. They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people.” [emphasis added]

The obvious attempt by the programme-makers to tone down and censor the type of propaganda with which children in the Gaza Strip are indoctrinated by Hamas in schools, summer camps or on television by replacing the word ‘Jew’ with ‘Israeli’ – thus making it more palatable for Western audiences sensitive to issues of racism – indicates the existence of a problem far greater than mistranslation – and one which apparently exists even in the highest echelons of the BBC.”

Two and a half years on, we see that the BBC is still shielding its audiences from the antisemitism which lies at the very heart of Hamas’ Islamist ideology (and from which other Palestinian factions are not exempt) and which shapes the indoctrination of Palestinian children from an early age.

That uncomfortable reality does not of course fit in with the BBC’s narrative on the topic of why the terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip continue their attacks on Israel despite the fact that it disengaged from the territory a decade ago and so – as we see above – the BBC allows itself to use ‘professional judgement’ in order to rewrite the story according to its own political views.

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21 comments on “The history – and the BBC Trust decision – behind Lyse Doucet’s mistranslation of ‘yahud’

  1. I am waiting with baited breath for this prog- to aired from the well known anti-Semite Lyse Doucet backed by the equally anti-Semitic BBC. So predictable….

  2. Isn’t the rather straightforward and journalistically appropriate action simply to ask the speaker what was meant rather than allowing the reporter’ to substitute his own judgment (to be charitable) on the grounds of “knowing” what they meant to say? And the clarification itself, if there is any, should also be reported. In what was is this really any different from a reporter interviewing a racist and simply, without any notice to the audience changing every N-word reference to “African-American”? In both cases, you ignore a specific mindset.
    Then again, why is it that the BBC sees no news value at all in the fact that the Palestinian Arabs fail to distinguish between “Jew” and “Israeli” even though they are two specific and different words – with only the first one showing up in the Qur’an, hadiths and suras? Perhaps these are the questions to have the BBC clarify.

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    • I saw the programme last night. No, Doucet did NOT ask the Palestinian children if they meant Israeli when they said ‘Yahuda’ [Jew.] Obviously the decision to substitute their own translation is the BBC’s solid commitment to conceal the Palestinian’s antisemitism that is rife throughout and is taught in UNWRA and other schools, and to conceal BBC’s own antisemitism and failure to be transparent when reporting on Israeli matters.

      • Thank you for that-
        This is the same as Wilcox (BBC correspondent)- After the Paris horrors-When he asked the lady-“Isnt this what the Jews are doing to the Palestinians”
        Totally ignoring the fact that 20% of Israelis , for thats who he meant, are not Jews.

  4. Lies Douche, ‘nuf said; her reporting has always creeped me out for years/decades regardless of subject matter.

  5. No such leeway or protection was feed to the Israeli kids interviewed, despite the fact they were not speaking their first language!

  6. thank you bbcwatch i`ve been visiting you for a long time ,never made a comment.this post obliges me to comment.i`m Swedish and i Always thought the uk was a bit saner than s ,Reading this shocked me. translators in the uk actually do more than translate!please tell me i misunderstood something.this is coming from a Swedish person that thought sweden was the lost country.

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  8. Ms. Doucet would no doubt argue that she, too, has no beef with Jews, only with Israel. But all who have followed her reporting of the conflict over the last 20 years know the truth. Filth.

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