Updated 19 May 09:30: The damn has burst, scroll to the end of the post for the various clarifications and spin the main stream sources are putting out (jump).
Updated 12:30: some commentary from Eliyahu m’Tsiyon (Ziontruth blog) who is actually responsible for first catching this whole mistranslation/reporting story. (jump)
Slowly but surely the news that the Pope did not call Abbas an “angel of peace” is seeping out.
Today I appeared on Voice of Israel’s Mottle Wolf show discussing the story, that’s below.
The Times of Israel, working directly from my tip off, came up with a slightly hesitant piece but they did actually call up and get a direct quote from the Vatican:
The Vatican’s chief spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, who was present when the pope hosted Abbas in the Apostolic Palace’s papal apartment, told The Times of Israel that he “did not hear the exact words spoken.” This, Lombardi elaborated, was “because they were said in a very colloquial manner between the pope and the Palestinian president, who were in close proximity to one another.”
Still, Lombardi’s description of papal intent seemed to point away from the “Abbas is an angel,” and more toward the “hopefully Abbas will be an angel” explanation.
Lombardi said that Francis often presents visiting leaders with the large round bronze medallion representing an angel of peace in order to encourage a commitment to peace. “When the pope presents the medal to the president or head of state, he offers a few words of explanation of the gift as well as an invitation to a commitment to peace on the part of the recipient,” Lombardi said. “Each one of us must be for others and for the world an ‘angel of peace.’” The word angel in this context, said Lombardi, means messenger.
If the words “were said in a very colloquial manner between the pope and the Palestinian president, who were in close proximity to one another”, perhaps the interpreter who translated from Italian to Arabic would like to confirm the exact quote.
To the best of my knowledge, the current Pope is not fluent in Arabic and Abu Mazen, unless he learned it while organising the attack on the Italian ship Achille Lauro, doesn’t speak Italian.
As far as I’m concerned the news wires were all lock step in agreement: as you can see in the screen shot from the original Times of Israel story (which is no different from any others based on the wire reports) the phrase was called out with quotation marks. That means it was a direct quote.
Either he said it or he didn’t: if the spokesman won’t confirm that he said it, or is unsure, it’s pretty clear he never said it and Lombardi is trying to save face for the news agencies.
The Jerusalem Post took a different approach: they’ve gone back and silently edited their story from the 16th May. I’m not a fan of this approach. I think it’s sneaky and I’m not sure why the Jerusalem Post feels the need to cover up for errors made by the AFP.
Here’s their piece as it looks tonight (despite it’s date of 16th May) with the changed headline “Pope calls on Abbas to be an ‘angel of peace’ during Vatican meeting:
And then there’s twitter:
Pope calls Abbas 'angel of peace' during Vatican meeting http://t.co/bCB4QL8CJx
— The Jerusalem Post (@Jerusalem_Post) May 16, 2015
So far the wires are silent. There have been a number of notable pieces published about this story, mostly in conservative blogs and publications. Presspectiva have published it in Hebrew. Ziontruth goes after the New York Times particularly and so on.
But we’re still waiting for someone big to publicly confess and own up to this. I think we may be waiting some time.
Updated 19 May 09:30: The big guns have arrived. (Top of the page)
Exhibit A: The BBC.
The Vatican has clarified comments made by Pope Francis to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday.
Journalists from leading news agencies reported that the Pope called Mr Abbas “an angel of peace” when giving him a bronze medallion representing one.
But an Italian newspaper says he merely expressed hope that the president might one day become an angel of peace.
The Vatican’s spokesman said he did not hear the exact words, but that they had been meant as an “encouragement”.
Reports of the Pope’s remarks caused a storm on social media, with some Twitter users accusing the media of deliberately misquoting him.
Exhibit B: The New York Times. This one is interesting because, to the best of my knowledge, the New York Times’s own piece on this came from Reuters who they don’t mention.
JERUSALEM — Every word counts in the delicate diplomacy of the Middle East, where negotiators have often resorted to creative ambiguity.
So Pope Francis’ sotto voce greeting to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority during a meeting at the Vatican on Saturday, in which he referred to Mr. Abbas as an “angel of peace,” but with an uncertain verb, has caused a linguistic and political furor that is still resonating days later.
Did the pope tell Mr. Abbas “You are an angel of peace,” as many news outlets, including the main Italian news agency ANSA, The Associated Press and The New York Times, reported? That phrasing pleased Palestinians but infuriated some Israelis and Jewish leaders around the world.
Or was the pope encouraging Mr. Abbas with the words, “May you be an angel of peace,” as other major Italian news media, like La Repubblica and La Stampa, reported, a formulation that suggested more exhortation than commendation, and sounded better to pro-Israeli ears.
Exhibit C: The Associated Press (AP). This is, to my mind, the big one. What they’ve managed to do here, however, is come up with a way that retains the original headline all the while admitting that the direct quote was probably wrong. I’m not even clear that “you are a bit an angel of peace” is elegant English, I’d have phrased it “you are partly an angel of peace” but I’m no Italian scholar.
VATICAN CITY (AP) — VATICAN CITY (AP) — In a story May 16 about Pope Francis meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, The Associated Press erroneously omitted two words when quoting the pope. Francis told Abbas “you are a bit an angel of peace,” not “you are an angel of peace.” The original Italian quote was, “Lei e un po un angelo della pace.”
A corrected version of the story is below:
Pope calls Palestinian leader “angel of peace” during visit
Pope France calls Palestinian leader Abbas an “angel of peace” during Vatican audience
By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace” during a meeting Saturday at the Vatican that underscored the Holy See’s warm relations with the Palestinians as it prepares to canonize two 19th century nuns from the region.
Francis made the compliment during the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of an official audience in the Apostolic Palace. He presented Abbas with a medallion and explained that it represented the “angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war.”
Francis said he thought the gift was appropriate since “you are a bit an angel of peace.” During his 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank, Francis called both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres men of peace.
Exhibit D: this is the unaltered complete text of the clarification the Vatican Embassy in Israel sent out to any journalist who asked for it (thanks to Presspectiva for passing this on to me).
In response to your query of yesterday, please find here below the statement from the Vatican Press Office in relation to the meeting of the Holy Father with President Mahmoud Abbas:
One of the gifts that the Pope often presents to visiting Presidents is a large, round, bronze medal by a contemporary artist that represents an “angel of peace.” When the Pope presents the medal to the President or Head of State, he offers a few words of explanation of the gift as well as an invitation to a commitment to peace on the part of the recipient. Each one of us must be for others and for the world an “angel of peace.” The word “angel” means messenger.
The sense of encouraging a commitment to peace was very clear; the very gift of the symbol of an angel of peace was made by the Pope with this intention this time as well as for previous presentations of the same gift to Presidents, not only to President Abbas.
Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto
From the direct statement from the Vatican Embassy:
“When the Pope presents the medal to the President or Head of State, he offers a few words of explanation of the gift as well as an invitation to a commitment to peace on the part of the recipient”
The new AP version: Lei e` un po’ un angelo della pace [you are a little bit of an angel of peace] — is just too cute. And nobody else heard it. But the AP is very definite about it: “The original Italian quote was, ‘Lei e un po un angelo della pace.'” –we just left out two wittle words — and then they ran almost the same story, as Brian says. So much for the reliability and credibility of the AP.
The NYT does its best to keep on obfuscating the issue and supplying partial and misleading information.
“It all seemed to boil down to the difference between the verb “sei,” Italian for “you are,” and “sia,” which means “may you be.” ”
The NYT leaves out a lot here. La Stampa put “sia” in the headline but in the body of the article, it has “lei possa essere un angelo della pace.” The NYT overlooks that line, further confusing the issue for those who have not read the original Italian articles. And one author of this NYT “correction” was Ms Povoledo who wrote the original offensive “report”.
The NYT does contrast the indicative form “sei” with the subjunctive “sia”. However, the NYT glides over the additional problem of the informal, less respectful form, sei [tu sei], and the formal, respectful form, sia [lei sia]. If you know the difference between tu and vous in French or tu’ and Usted in Spanish, then Italian has the same thing, lei used as vous and Usted.
Now the question is: would the pope have used the informal, less respectful tu sei or sei form with Abbas? Or would he have used the formal, more respectful Lei form, that is, Lei sia or simply sia?So the NYT is obfuscating this other linguistic/social issue.
If you find any more significant corrections let me know in the comments and I’ll add them.