Did David Attenborough Say ‘I Am Unaware of Any Animal That Is as Cruel as Israelis’?

A stray comment on an Iranian news web site formed the basis of a bizarre meme involving Sir David Attenborough.

Image via Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia

Claim

David Attenborough said that "I am unaware of any animal that is as cruel as Israelis" as part of a scathing attack on the country's treatment of the Palestinian people.

Rating

Misattributed About this rating

Origin

Between 2014 and 2018, a quotation emerged online which purported to show the English broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough comparing Israeli people to ‘animals’ for their alleged treatment of the Palestinians. Attenborough’s alleged statement was turned into a meme which read as follows:

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. They put millions of people in siege. They shoot children going to school. They kidnap kids and harvest their organs. They inject prisoners with disease pathogens before releasing them. They murder by land sea and air. And worst of all, they slander their defenceless victims as “terrorists”.

David Attenborough, July 21st 2014.

These words also appear on lists of “David Attenborough quotes” and were prominently cited by the Indian journalist Aijaz Zaka Syed in an August 2014 column he wrote for the Saudi newspaper Arab News on the subject of Israel’s then ongoing “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza. Syed prefaced the quotation with “As an agitated David Attenborough, the celebrated British environmentalist, noted …”

The quotation has almost always appeared with a specific date attached to it: “July 21st, 2014.” It’s possible the date was used to add to the statement’s appearance of authenticity — not only did Attenborough say these things, the logic goes, but we know exactly when he said them. However, the inclusion of this date actually allows us to conclude that the quotation is not a genuine one.

On 21 July 2014, a user with the pseudonym “David Attenborough” commented under an article on the Iranian news web site PressTV. That article has since been removed, but an archived version shows that the headline proclaimed “Israel drops white phosphorus bombs on Gazans,” and in the comments section of that article a “David Attenborough” wrote:

I am unaware of any animal that is as cruel as Israelis — not even crocodiles. They bomb schools, hospitals, refugee camps, orphanages, UN feeding stations, water works, power plants, ambulances, kids playing on the beach. They put millions of people in a siege. They shoot children going to school. They kidnap kids and harvest their organs. They inject prisoners with disease pathogens before releasing them. They murder by land sea and air. And worst of all, they slander their defenceless victims as “terrorists”.

The distinctive date and time format from this comment (“5:8 PM”) was carried over into some later versions of the meme, which establishes that the 2014 PressTV article was the original source of this quotation. One version of the meme even falsely described Attenborough as an MP (member of parliament), further undermining its credibility:

Attenborough did not say those things about Israel. The date and time included with the quotation since its emergence online establishes that it originated with a comment made by an unknown person using the moniker “David Attenborough” on an Iranian news web site.

Sir David Attenborough is a household name in the U.K. and a hugely-respected broadcaster whose pronouncements are closely followed and widely reported in the news media. If he had weighed in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in a way which asserted that Israelis were worse than animals, such comments would certainly have made headline news. No such news coverage exists, though, because Attenborough never made any such comments.

Sources
  • Syed, Aijaz Zaka.   “Israel Has Lost Both the Battle and the War.”
        Arab News.   8 August 2014.

  • PressTV.   “Israel Drops White Phosphorus Bombs on Gazans.”
        21 July 2014.

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