Bibi's Echo Chamber: Why I Hate the Internet Memes of the Israeli Leader's UN Speech
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Let’s think about it this way: if Netanyahu had a group of cartoonists sit in a room after his speech and asked them to produce highly viral content, I guess they could have come up with some of the same results as the leftists on my Facebook feed did. We feel those memes are critical because we place them in a critical context to begin with. Yet more often than not, they make everything seem playful and harmless; at other times, they increase the celebrity status of Netanyahu while avoiding a meaningful challenge to his politics.
Watch for example the “28 standing ovations” remix we posted here following Netanyahu’s speech in front of a joint session of Congress. At the time, it looked satirical. Now try to imagine this was a clip produced by the Prime Minister’s Office. Could it still make sense? I certainly think so.
It seems that sophisticated leaders like Netanyahu are by now well aware of the ironic approach to politics and are using it to their benefit.
On Thursday, as Netanyahu was preparing for “the speech of his life” (“his eighth,” noted a commentator on Israeli television), proxies to the prime minister hinted that the speech would contain a certain “surprise.” In the past, this kind of leak was meant to signal a political news item, perhaps a declaration of a new policy. But this surprise turned out to be a cartoon bomb. (Actually, the prime minister office couldn’t have been more literary, given the fact that most cartoon surprise “packages” contain bombs.)
Cartoons instead of policy – Netanyahu didn’t offer one idea or initiative since he agreed to utter the words “Palestinian state” somewhere in 2009. All he gave us were PR surprises, yet for the world media this is more than enough. The Israeli prime minister made the front page picture of all of America’s most serious papers on the day following his UN speech. I believe that the many editors who placed this front page picture found the cartoon bomb to be ridiculous and childish, but nevertheless, played along with the trick. (I remember similar dynamics in the media desks I have worked on.) As it is often the case with “progressives,” the ironic enjoyment of the moment overcame the editors’ political and professional judgment, to a point where playing along with the gimmick becomes the professional thing to do.
Even The New Yorker had its own highbrow version of the Bibi meme industry. Like others, the magazine’s editors preferred the performance to the content of Netanyahu’s speech. If Netanyahu was indeed trying to divert attention from the Palestinian issue, his worst critics were the first to play along. The ironic zeitgeist allowed for this.
At this point, it is clear that the brilliance of Netanyahu’s move was that the bomb was so lame. If he was quoting reports and scientific data on an actual nuclear bomb, or showing a proper diagram, he would not have gotten the same effect. In the end, the joke was on us.
Political powers, it is worth remembering, are never ironic. An amused approach to politics helps drive attention away from the true meaning or consequences of their actions.
This article was originally published on +972 Magazine.