Lost in Translation: How I Incited a War Between Israel and Algeria

Haaretz's Amos Harel was surprised to find out that six Algerian newspapers reported that Israel fears the 'wrath of the Algerians' based on an article that he had supposedly written.

The Arab media’s intense preoccupation with the situation in Israel is nothing new. Articles from the Israeli press – and from Haaretz’s English website in particular – are translated regularly and published widely in various Arab newspapers.

Like many other Israeli journalists and writers, I have gotten used to this, as well as to the fact that books that I have written with Avi Issacharoff have appeared in pirated translations in Lebanon and in the Palestinian Authority, with no coordination with us (apparently in the Arab world, copyright does not apply to Israelis).

At most, one can see these episodes as small professional reference points: the time that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah quoted my article at a rally in Beirut; the emails of Syrian President Bashar Assad, published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, including one in which the tyrant’s assistant recommends that he read an article penned by Issacharoff and myself “in order to know what the Zionists are thinking.” And there was even the time that a foreign colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, sent me a photograph of a shop window in Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon, showing a copy of our book on the Second Lebanon War, alongside a poster of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei.

On Thursday, however, I came across something new. No fewer than six newspapers in Algeria, I was told, are extensively citing an article I wrote for Haaretz. Three of the newspapers, one in French and two in Arabic, even carried the story on their front pages. My article argued that the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is more dangerous for Israel than his predecessor Houari Boumediene, and that Israel fears Algerian military aggression.

“The strategic expert” of Haaretz, it was claimed, relies on Israeli intelligence that says that the two countries are in direct conflict, in which Israel could absorb the wrath of the Algerians, even more severely than the beating it got from the Algerian forces that came to the aid of the Egyptians during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Israel, it turns out from the reports, considers Algeria as an existential threat against it, much as it sees Iran and Syria – and it understands now that it was mistaken when it ignored the consolidation of military power of “the strongest force in North Africa.” Some of the Algerian newspapers indirectly quote the article from another source: the Jordanian newspaper a-Liwaa, which published it on Wednesday.

There is, of course, only one problem with this story: I have never written anything related, even indirectly, to the Algerian threat against Israel. I doubt whether Algeria, which is located some 3,000 kilometers away, poses even a small and indirect threat to us. We do not lack real threats, from Lebanon and Gaza next door, and the more far-flung Iran, but it seems as if Algeria is far beyond the scope of interest – if not of Israeli intelligence services, then definitely of my own.

Algerian journalists perceived the story as slightly odd, as well. Several of them wrote and phoned me today, to verify that it is indeed a fabrication.

A blogger named Akram Karif, who writes for a French website that deals with security matters, published an educated – and mostly correct – analysis that undisputedly proves that the article never was and never existed.

“Several explanations are necessary here,” Karif wrote. “Where did the article come from? Like numerous articles that create a buzz, the document comes from an online Palestinian magazine and was circulated via social networks and Algerian groups on Facebook. This magazine, Al Watan Voice, simply reposted an article written in 2009, which also quoted an article from a Jordanian newspaper, a-Liwaa, which apparently was published in 2008. In conclusion: the article not only raises doubts but is outright false due to the fact that it is based on a fifth-hand source. This is mainly an outdated article, which surely was written at the time in connection to the air bridge between Algeria and Sudan.”

Karif is correct in his analysis – except, of course, for the fact that I also did not write anything about Algeria five years ago. Apparently, the whole thing is simply an invention. Invoking the Russian proverb, oft quoted by my colleague Alex Fishman: “That was a long time ago, and even then it wasn’t true.” So who’s behind this whole story? I have no idea, but it is likely that someone out there in the Arab world used Haaretz to spread a story that is false from beginning to end.