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Friday, August 2, 2013

Video Shows Iran\'s President-Elect Was Misquoted on Israel

A video report from Iran's state-owned Press TV included subtitled remarks by President-elect Hassan Rouhani that were misreported by other Iranian news agencies on Friday.

Last Updated, 6:46 p.m. | As my colleague Thomas Erdbrink reports from Tehran, Iran's state media scrambled on Friday to correct comments wrongly attributed to the country's president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, after he was incorrectly quoted calling Israel “a sore which must be removed.”

Press TV, the English-language arm of Iran's state broadcaster, subtitled Mr. Rouhani's actual remarks, made to a reporter during the Islamic republic's annual march for Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem. The video shows that the cleric did not mention Israel by name or call for its elimination, but did compare “the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the dear Quds,” to a “wound” or “sore” that “has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.”

Those remarks were still disturbing to Israelis, since they hewed to the Iranian government line that the entire state of Israel is occupied Palestinian territory. A longer clip of the state television broadcast showed Mr. Rouhani smiling and waving in the parade as chants of “Death to Israel” echoed in the background.

Video from Iranian state television of senior clerics marching in the annual Quds Day parade in Tehran on Friday.

That report also showed other senior figures marching, including the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. According to Shiva Balaghi, an Iranian-American cultural historian, Mr. Rafsanjani explained as he marched that the point of the annual Quds Day rally was to encourage Palestinians. “When they see this support,” he said, “they will become hopeful.”

Arash Karami, a journalist who blogs about the Iranian media, noted that two semi-official news agencies that initially misreported Mr. Rouhani's remarks, subsequently corrected their reports in articles headlined: “The Occupation of Palestine Is a Wound on the Body of the Islamic World.”

International news organizations that had relied on the initial, flawed reports from Iran were forced to explain the error later in the day. Rana Rahimpour of the BBC's Persian service explained what happened in an appearance on BBC World News.

An on-air correction from BBC News, explaining that Iran's president had been misquoted.

After the video showed that Iran's incoming president had been misquoted, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the Israeli leader stood by his initial response, in which he said:

Rouhani's true face has been revealed earlier than expected. Even if they will now rush to deny his remarks, this is what the man thinks and this is the plan of the Iranian regime. These remarks by President Rouhani must rouse the world from the illusion that part of it has been caught up in since the Iranian elections. The president there has changed but the goal of the regime has not: To achieve nuclear weapons in order to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the peace and security of the entire world. A country that threatens the destruction of the State of Israel must not be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction.

That comment remains on the prime minister's Facebook page, still explained as his response to Mr. Rouhani's “remarks in which he was cited as saying that Israel ‘has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and should be removed.'”

Hours later, the prime minister's official spokesman to the Arab media, Ofir Gendelman, drew attention on Twitter to an Arabic translation of Mr. Netanyahu's rejoinder without mentioning that there was no evidence the comment that prompted the response was ever made.

There was evidence of some confusion in the Israeli response, though, since Golnaz Esfandiari, a reporter who blogs on Iran for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, noticed that part of the statement initially posted on Mr. Netanyahu's personal Twitter feed was deleted shortly after she replied to it.

The Buzzfeed reporter Rosie Gray captured a screenshot of two updates that were later removed from the verified @netanyahu account, which is affiliated with the leader's Likud Party office.

An Israeli government spokesman told Ms. Gray to ignore that personal account, and insisted that the statement had not been retracted. Indeed, one of the comments that disappeared from the @netanyahu feed was also posted on the government-run @IsraeliPM account, and was not deleted.

Later on Friday, the social media team that helped Mr. Rouhani's campaign prevail in the election uploaded its own subtitled video of his remarks to YouTube, and circulated it on Twitter.

The rapid spread of these false reports that Iran's new president had explicitly called for Israel's destruction echoed an incident in 2005, when the country's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was incorrectly quoted as saying that Israel “must be wiped off the map.” As The Lede explained last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad had, in fact, used a metaphorical turn of phrase in Persian that has no exact English equivalent, made no mention of a map, and might have intended his comment to be more of a prediction than a threat.

That said, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the far more powerful cleric who rules Iran, have repeatedly predicted that Israel will cease to exist and openly support militant groups that are pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state. In some cases, they have even used language similar to what was falsely attributed to Mr. Rouhani on Friday. “The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off,” Iran's supreme leader said in a speech last year. “And it definitely will be cut off.”

An Associated Press video report on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling Israel “a cancer” in February 2012.