Did Ahmadinejad really say he wished to “wipe Israel off the map”?

Factoid (n) : “A piece of unverified or inaccurate information that is presented in the press as factual, often as part of a publicity effort, and that is then accepted as true because of frequent repetition.” – Answers.com

The assertion the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wished to “wipe Israel off the map” is the official candidate for factoid of the millenium. In an era of total information recall it is astounding that this absolute and utter fabrication has received and continues to command so much mileage on the information superhighway. The “wipe Israel off the map” attribution is a deliberately propagandistic mistranslation of an Ahmadinejad speech whose repetition corresponds more to the wish-fulfillment of political hawks than any observed reality. What is more, a 10yr old with internet access and a modicum of journalistic savvy would be able to tell you this.

On October 25th, 2005 at the Ministry of Interior conference hall in Tehran, newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at a conference entitled “The World Without Zionism.” It was in this speech that he quoted the words of the late Ayatollah Khomeini which were fated to be not only mistranslated but falsely attributed to him. The exact quote in Farsi is as follows:

“Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.”

As every Farsi scholar whose opinion has been solicited has subsequently declared this passage is most accurately translated word for word as follows; “Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from)”.

Or, to put it more clearly; “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” There is obviously a vast difference between calling for a nation, people or country to be wiped from the face of the earth – basically an act of genocide – and the call for the end of an ideology associated with a particular regime.

Neither Ahmadinejad (nor Khomeini) wanted anything ‘wiped from the map’ because the Persian word for map “nagsheh” is not contained anywhere in the original Farsi quote. In the context of the argument which Ahmadinejad was putting forth he says that the “Zionist regime” was imposed as a strategic bridgehead to ensure Western hegemony over the region and its assets. Whether or not you agree with his historical analysis you cannot go on to aver based on thisĀ evidence alone that he is calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.

He is simply borrowing approvingly from Khomeini a quote to reinforce his argument that an aggressive, non-accommodating Israeli regime which repeatedly tramples on Palestinian rights must surely vanish from the page of time’. He goes on to bolster his case by saying that other seemingly invincible regimes have since collapsed and crumbled; the Soviet Union, the Iran of the U.S. backed Shah and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

It was in fact the Islamic Republic News Agency who reported from the “World without Zionism” conference who were responsible for the inflammatory “wiped off the map” misquote and this line, which made such good copy, was gleefully picked up by all the major Western outlets such as Al Jazeera, Time, CNN and the BBC without any attempt to doublecheck its accuracy. The mistranslated quote has since been spread worldwide and has been repeated ad infinitum by journalists, broadcasters, pundits and politicians usually as a preamble to justifying further sanctions and calling for an end to the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme. President Bush said the comments represented “a specific threat to Israel” and in a speech in Cleveland in March 2006 vowed he would resort to war to protect Israel because, “the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our ally Israel.”

An October 2006 memo released by the Israeli lobby group AIPAC warns that; “Ahmadinejad and other top Iranian leaders are issuing increasingly belligerent statements threatening to destroy the United States, Europe and Israel.” Ariel Sharon has demanded that Iran be expelled from the UN for calling for Israel’s destruction and Shimon Peres has threatened to wipe Iran off the map. Benjamin Netanyahu went a step further by warning that Iran was “preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state” and that Ahmadinejad should be tried for war crimes for inciting genocide.

Tony Blair meanwhile expressed his “revulsion” whilst mooting the possibility that it might be necessary to attack Iran. As recently as the presidential debates both John McCain and Sarah Palin repeated the misquote as justification for not sitting down for talks “without preconditions” with the Iranian leadership. Neither of them were subsequently corrected by either Joe Biden or Barack Obama whom we must assume either agreed with their assessment or were unaware that the quote was falsely attributed or were aware but simply didn’t wish to seem too dove-like given their position on troop withdrawal from Iraq.

It is difficult to believe that with the resources at their disposal these politicians were unaware that the “wipe Israel off the map” quote was falsely attributed and taken out of context and yet they are happy to feed the myth themselves by repeating the falsehood on every available occasion. We need to keep a close eye on this factoid. A politician’s willingness to repeat it is a useful barometer of the truth – if and when the war drums begin to beat again.


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