The New York Times headquarters in Manhattan. Credit: Haxorjoe via Wikimedia Commons.

By Myron Kaplan/

The New York Times is often guilty of bias by commission and omission in its Arab-Israeli coverage. In the March 11, 2014, print edition (as well as the online edition), Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren (“Jordanian Judge Killed by Israeli Soldiers at Border Crossing”) quoted Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Col. Yaron Beit-On, who oversees Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley, concerning what seems to have been either a terrorist jihadist incident or a man gone berserk:

“He shouted, ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,’” or “God is great,” Colonel Beit-On said. “When the soldiers understood they had no way to handle him, they used a gun and they shot him. They were in danger.”

Rudoren’s rendering is problematic. First, she leads readers to believe that the colonel provided the translation of the Arabic phrase (“God is great).” This is unlikely, since Israeli authorities don’t normally attempt such a translation. An official IDF blog reported the incident without the attempt at translation:

“The terrorist attacked IDF forces with a pole, tried to steal a soldier’s weapon, and then attempted to strangle another soldier at the scene. A preliminary IDF investigation concluded that a terrorist attacked Israeli soldiers Monday at the Allenby Bridge crossing on Israel’s border with Jordan. The terrorist charged forces with a metal pole while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar,’ and then attempted to seize one soldier’s weapon.”

Likewise, an Israeli report quoting from a Kol Israel (Voice of Israel public radio) broadcast about what the IDF said about the incident lacked a translation of the Arabic phrase:

“[He] was on his way to carry out a terror attack. He struck out at the soldiers with a metal rod, shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ and attempted to snatch a weapon from one of them, they said.”

Therefore, for the sake of accuracy, Rudoren–in order to show that it’s her translation, not the colonel’s–should have placed the translation attempt within parentheses or brackets.

But that is not the only problem. The translation itself in Rudoren’s article is problematic. “Allahu akbar” is commonly mistranslated as “God is great.” But shouldn’t a higher standard of accuracy be expected of the “newspaper of record” in the United States, as the Times is widely known? First, the generic word for “god” in Arabic is “ilah,” while the proper name (or unique name) for Islam’s god is “Allah.” Thus, the god referred to in “Allahu akbar” is the god defined in the Quran (or Koran) and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). In jihadist ideology, if not Islamic theology, the difference between “ilah” and “Allah” holds more significance than press accounts like Rudoren’s infer. The God defined in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament is not synonymous with “Allah.” Second, the word for “great” is “kebir” (not “akbar”) in Arabic–“akbar” means greater/greatest.

Lane’s Lexicon, the respected Arabic-English dictionary, states, …read more


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