Published on April 9th, 2010 | by Marsha B. Cohen5
Obama, Nuclear Proliferation and the Politics of Mistranslation
The right wing blogosphere is buzzing with rumors (denied by the White House, according to Ben Smith of Politico) that the Obama administration has refused visas to employees of the Nuclear Research Center-Negev (NRCN) in Dimona, Israel.
Roger Simon, blogging at Pajamas Media, claims to be quoting an article published in the Israeli daily Maariv:
…. workers at the Dimona reactor who submitted VISA requests to visit the United States for ongoing university education in Physics, Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering — have all been rejected, specifically because of their association with the Dimona reactor. This is a new policy decision of the Obama administration, since there never used to be an issue with the reactor’s workers from study in the USA, and till recently, they received VISAs and studied in the USA.
Simon goes on to infer that, according to the Maariv article, “Israeli defense officials are stating these workers have no criminal records in the U.S. or Israel and have been singled out purely because of their place of employment.”
Nestled in Simon’s (or an uncredited source’s) “exclusive Pajamas Media translation” is the revelation that the English version Simon is quoting what he admits “is from a Google translation that I’ve tried to fix up a little bit.”
A little bit? Let’s play “Simon Says” and compare his (or his source’s) efforts to what Maariv writer Uri Binder actually wrote:
NRG/Maariv reports today that workers at the Dimona reactor who submitted VISA requests to visit the United States for ongoing University education in Physics, Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering — have all been rejected, specifically because of their association with the Dimona reactor. This is a new policy decision of the Obama administration, since there never used to be an issue with the reactor’s workers from study in the USA, and till recently, they received VISAs and studied in the USA.
Israeli Defense Officials have stated that these reactor researches have no criminal background in Israel or in the USA, and yet they are being singled out purely because of their place of employment at the reactor.
In point of fact, the Maariv article in the original Hebrew (English translation courtesy of and copyright by Israel News Today, used by permission here and for subsequent block quotes) opens:
The Americans are toughening their behavior toward the Nuclear Research Center Negev (NRCN) in Dimona. NRCN workers say that while the Americans are behaving in a conciliatory and non-aggressive way regarding the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama’s people have chosen to behave in a humiliating manner toward a country that is friendly toward them.
NRCN officials said yesterday that Obama’s government has imposed restrictions and toughened its behavior toward them, as has never happened before in relations between the two countries. For decades, NRCN employees have traveled to universities in the United States for advanced professional training in physics, chemistry and nuclear engineering. In order to study at those universities, the NRCN researchers had to request entry visas for the United States, as any Israeli citizen must. Yet recently, several of them encountered humiliating treatment and were refused visas, while their only crime has been that they are NRCN employees. According to security officials, the people in question are researchers with clean records who have never been in any trouble with the law either in Israel or in the United States, so the new manner in which they are being treated constitutes a severe offense against them and their families.
So, at the outset it is obvious that:
1. Binder’s Maariv article is part of a larger discourse of grievance emanating from Israel about Iran, and what appears (to Israelis) to be President Obama’s harsh treatment of Israel in sharp contrast to his conciliatory and gentle treatment of Iran. (Iranians don’t quite see it that way.)
2. Simon asserts not only that all Dimona workers who have requested visas to study in the US have been turned down, but also that they have been refused visas explicitly because they worked at the Dimona nuclear facility. In Blau’s original article in Maariv, he doesn’t elaborate on what the alleged “humiliating treatment,” consisted of, nor does he provide any hint as to the number of Dimona employees who requested study visas, how many received them and how many had their visa requests denied. (Do consular officials routinely provide a reason why a visa has been denied?)
The original Hebrew is kamah mey’hem, which translates as “a few” or “some” of them. Toward the end of the article, Professor Ze’ev Alfasi, the director of the nuclear engineering department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is quoted as saying, “Some of the people did not receive visas to the United States because they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center.” Some, not all. (How Professor Alfasi is privy to US State Dept. deliberations concerning visa issuance is not clear.)
3. Simon’s translation claims that (unnamed) “Defense officials” have attributed the rejection of the visa applications to the applicants working for NRCN. In Binder’s article, “security officials” attest to the fact that the applicants have never run afoul of the law either in Israel or the US. It is not clear whether it is these (unnamed) officials or Binder himself who believe(s) that this, in and of itself, automatically entitles the individuals in question, and their families, to US entry visas.
4. Also interesting is that Simon’s headline refers to the victims of visa denial as “scientists,” whereas in Binder’s article, they are merely “workers.” (Perhaps they are technicians at the level of Mordechai Vanunu?) Nowhere in the Maariv piece is the word “scientist” used.
Most remarkably, Simon , the right wing blogosphere, and the hysterical rantings of the Republican Jewish Coalition, as well as the few progressives to have caught this story (Paul Woodward, Juan Cole), seem to have missed the significance of the larger and far more germane issue raised in Binder’s article. Dimona workers are objecting: the US apparently has not been providing some of the dual use (civilian and military) nuclear technological equipment to Israel that it wants. Exactly how long this has been the case is not clear, although Binder tries to exculpate the Bush administration. This has forced Israel to procure this technology from (gasp!) France.
According to officials who are familiar with the details, attempts to purchase certain components from the Americans have also encountered difficulties, with some of the items under a de facto embargo. To put it mildly, officials at the nuclear center are not pleased with the tougher treatment, which did not take place during President Bush’s term.
According to Professor Alfasi,“The United States is not selling anything nuclear to the Nuclear Research Center, and that includes everything. For example, radiation detectors for nuclear research are purchased in France because the Americans do not sell to people of the Nuclear Research Center.”
Even more offensive and outrageous to Israelis is that “The Americans have asked for a detailed report on the purpose of some of the items that they wish to buy from the United States.” Professor Alfasi complains: “The Americans want to know what every item of equipment is used for.”
The Maariv article ends, as it began, with Iran. Alfasi says peevishly, “I don’t know whether they [the US] will sell to Iran what they’ve been refusing to sell to us.” According to Binder, “Officials of the Nuclear Research Center refused to comment.”
The Maariv article concludes rather oddly with what appears to be a stinging indictment of “the upper echelons of the security establishment” who apparently are not as upset by the US’s alleged perfidy as anonymous retiree thinks they ought to be:
A retired employee of the Nuclear Research Center said yesterday, “I don’t understand it. Why are the upper echelons of the security establishment silent when our best friend is working against us so blatantly and behaving leniently toward the makers of nuclear terror? The whole world is seeing the circus that the Iranian regime has created for the United States.”
Is it possible that President Obama really is serious about curbing nuclear proliferation–for Iran, for the US, and, unthinkably, even for Israel. Israelis love non-proliferation as long as his target is Iran, but get awfully upset if the POTUS–or anyone in his administration–dares to challenge the Israeli presumption that its own nuclear programs, and the people who work for them, are exempt from American and international scrutiny. The “top echelons” of the Israeli may be the first to have gotten the message, or they may be allowing their underlings to grab the headlines and speak for them.
Even more to the point, what is Obama’s message to France, who, as a nuclear state which is party to the NPT, has pledged to provide nuclear technology only to non-nuclear states which have signed the NPT? Israel has never signed the NPT, either as a non-nuclear or nuclear state. Obama may have finally noticed that the NPT actually bars support for Israel’s nuclear program. The French have been turning a blind eye to the NPT when it comes to Israel, apparently providing anything the US won’t. France, after all, was the source of Israel’s nuclear infrastructure back in the 1950s and 60’s. France often claims (with a wink) to have been duped by the Israelis into providing their nuclear know-how.
What about now?