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June 30, 2022 11:26 am

Seven Notorious Fake Quotes and Misquotes About Israel

avatar by Chaim Lax


Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A famous man once said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

When it comes to discussions about Israel and Zionism, the Jewish people’s liberation movement, this statement could not be more accurate. Many times, both journalists and social media influencers will share famous quotes about Israel that are either outright fabrications or deceptive misquotes. However, by the time the truth about these quotes is revealed, they have already been shared thousands of times and viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

The following is a list of some of the most popular false quotes or misquotes about Israel that are still shared by both reputed news outlets and online celebrities:

1.  “We must expel the Arabs and take their places” — David Ben-Gurion

Cited in such reputable news sources as The Economist, The Independent, and The Baltimore Sun, this quote from a 1937 letter by the future first prime minister of Israel has been the subject of controversy for some time.

According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, who helped popularize this quote by citing it in his 1985 tome “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947 – 1949,” the problem with this quote is that in the original letter, the words written before it are crossed out. If those words are included and the context is taken into account, Ben-Gurion’s words then take on the opposite meaning from that which is commonly quoted.

Morris further claims that, based on the evidence, those words were not crossed out by Ben-Gurion but by someone else at a later time. For these reasons, Morris’ later works either do not reference this quote or he includes the letter’s original words, not the spliced quote that is commonly cited.

2. “The Palestinians are two-legged animals” / “The Palestinians are beasts on two legs” — Menachem Begin

Referenced by Robert Fisk in a 2014 piece for The Independent, and continuously cited on both alternative news sites and online platforms, this misquote of Israel’s sixth prime minister is used to portray Israelis as racists who view Palestinians as less than human. However, this is not at all the meaning of the actual quote.

Menachem Begin’s words come from a June 1982 Knesset debate over a vote of no-confidence in Begin’s ruling coalition government. During his speech before the plenum, Begin spoke about the need to protect Israeli civilians from attacks and said, “We shall protect our children. If the hand of a two-legged animal shall be raised against them, that hand shall be cut off and our children will grow up happily in their parent’s homes.”

Thus, contrary to what is often quoted, Menachem Begin was only referring to terrorists who target children as “two-legged animals.”

3. “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews” — Albert Einstein

Shared online by such distinct personalities as real estate mogul and celebrity father Mohamed Hadid, British Labour MP John McDonnell, and former basketball player Etan Thomas, this alleged quote is falsely attributed to Albert Einstein. While Einstein was critical of certain aspects of Israeli politics, there is no evidence that he ever said the above-cited quote.

In fact, as a Zionist, Einstein was once offered the position of president of the State of Israel, helped fundraise for the World Zionist Organization, and spent his last days crafting a speech in honor of Israel’s seventh anniversary.

4. “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people” — Moshe Ya’alon

Referenced by such major newspapers as The Guardian, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and The Boston Globe, this oft-cited quote by the former IDF chief of staff is actually a gross misrepresentation of what he actually said.

As explained by Commentary Magazine, this quote is based on statements made by Ya’alon at the height of the Second Intifada. During a 2002 interview with the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, Ya’alon responded to a question about what his definition of victory was by describing it as “the very deep internalization by the Palestinians that terrorism and violence will not defeat us, will not make us fold.”

Later on, Ya’alon continued, “If we end the confrontation in a way that makes it clear to every Palestinian that terrorism does not lead to agreements, that will improve our strategic position. On the other hand, if their feeling at the end of the confrontation is that they can defeat us by means of terrorism, our situation will become more and more difficult.”

In a similar vein, Ya’alon was quoted that same week by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot as saying, “It is imperative that we win this conflict in such a way that the Palestinian side will burn into its consciousness that there is no chance of achieving goals by means of terror.”

Thus, in a distortion of reality, Ya’alon was not saying that the Palestinians must realize that they are a defeated people but was rather saying that the Palestinians must realize that the Israelis will not be defeated by terrorism.

5. “I’ve killed a lot of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that” — Naftali Bennett

Upon Naftali Bennett’s ascension to the prime minister’s seat in June 2021, both reputable news sites and social media observers dug up the above quote as a way to discredit Israel’s new leader and portray him as a bloodthirsty racist. However, as Bennett explained when this quote was brought up by former MK Haneen Zoabi during a 2015 session of the Knesset plenum, the quote was said in reference to his army service, when he killed terrorists during military operations.

6. “I am not aware of any animal that is so cruel as the Israelis – not even crocodiles. They bomb schools, hospitals, refugee camps, orphanages, UN feeding stations, water works, power plants, ambulances, kids playing on the beach” — David Attenborough

The above is part of a larger quote that has been circulating on the web since 2014, especially during times of heightened tensions. Attributed to famed British naturalist David Attenborough, this quote originated as a comment on an article posted on the Iranian state media organ, Press TV. Since then, it has been shared both on social media and on news sites.

Both the reputed US fact-checking site Snopes and the news agency Reuters have found that there is no evidence that David Attenborough ever said this.

7. “As a UNICEF ambassador, I cannot play against people who kill innocent Palestinian children. We had to cancel the game because we are humans before footballers” — Lionel Messi

The above quote has been circulating online since 2018, when Argentina backed out of a World Cup warm-up match against Israel after the game was moved from Haifa to Jerusalem. At the time, it was alleged that Messi had given the above quote as a reason for the canceling of the game. Even though the quote was almost immediately proven to be a fake by Argentinian media (and Messi played in Israel in 2019), it continues to be spread on social media, especially during times of increased conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

As can be seen from the above, it is not uncommon for false statements or misquotes about Israel to be spread both on social media and by news sources. Therefore, it is important that when reporting on Israel or sharing information about it online, both journalists and civilians alike need to ensure that what they are sharing is true and not a fabrication that is meant to defame the Jewish state, its leaders, and those who support it.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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