The BBC has backed down from its characterization of Syria and Egypt’s 1973 attack against Israel as being “preemptive.”
The adjective appeared on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Learning Zone, a platform designed to offer historical information to students, and was removed Tuesday following questions by JTA.
“During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egypt and Syria acted preemptively against Israel at the Suez Canal,” the website read.
BBC’s ethics guide defines a preemptive strike as “military action taken by a country in response to a threat from another country — the purpose of it is to stop the threatening country from carrying out its threat.”
Asked by JTA whether BBC had indications that Israel had threatened or planned to attack its Arab neighbors 40 years ago, BBC’s head of communications, Claire Rainford, wrote in an email on Monday that the producers of Learning Zone “have reviewed the copy and decided to remove the word preemptive.”
The false characterization was featured in an article by the critical website BBC Watch.
According to Learning Zone, the information on the website was provided by the Israeli historian Benny Morris, who has written extensively about Israel’s culpability in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, as well as British journalist Robert Fisk and linguist Noam Chomsky — both harsh critics of Israel who have likened the country’s practices to apartheid in South Africa.
The text on Learning Zone now reads: “During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egypt and Syria acted against Israel at the Suez Canal.”
Rainford did not reply to JTA’s question on whether the BBC had indications that Syria, which mounted a surprise attack in the Golan timed to coincide with the Egyptian advance, also acted against Israel at the Suez.
For the record, following is a very short section of a much longer account of events leading up to the war, as published by Wikipedia:
“In an interview published in Newsweek (April 9, 1973), President Sadat…threatened war with Israel. Several times during 1973, Arab forces conducted large-scale exercises that put the Israeli military on the highest level of alert, only to be recalled a few days later. The Israeli leadership already believed that if an attack took place, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) could repel it.
“Almost a full year before the war, in an October 24, 1972, meeting with his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Sadat declared his intention to go to war with Israel even without proper Soviet support. Planning had begun in 1971 and was conducted in absolute secrecy—even the upper-echelon commanders were not told of war plans until less than a week prior to the attack, and the soldiers were not told until a few hours beforehand. The plan to attack Israel in concert with Syria was code-named Operation Badr (Arabic for “full moon”), after the Battle of Badr, in which Muslims under Muhammad defeated the Quraish tribe of Mecca.”
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