One of the internet memes inspired by Netanyahu's speech at the UNGA on Thursday.
One of the Internet memes inspired by Netanyahu's speech at the UNGA on Thursday. Photo by Harry Rubenstein
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Noa Angel
One of the Internet memes inspired by Netanyahu's speech at the UNGA on Thursday. Photo by Noa Angel

That’s the big debate in cyberspace following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he decided to make his ‘red line’ with Iran more than a figure of speech by standing in front of the United Nations General Assembly with a cartoon-like picture of a bomb and drawing his red line exactly where he thought Iran’s progress toward nuclearization should not be tolerated.

Even the Prime Minister’s detractors have to admit one thing about the “Bibi Bomb,” as it’s come to be known (this is a REAL Bibi Bomb, as opposed to the practice of inserting a picture of the prime minister into photos, popular known as “Bibi bombing.”

Whatever its called, as a result of the simplistic visual aid, everybody is talking about his speech. Can anyone remember what Mahmoud Ahmedinejad or Mahmoud Abbas said when they stood at the podium? Anyone?

No one will forget Bibi’s message for a long time. The cartoon bomb guaranteed he would be all over the Internet for the next news cycle - and beyond.

Netanyahu and his advisors had to know that mockery and ridicule would be part of the package, and obviously, they didn’t care. It almost appeared as if they were asking for it.

If so, they got what they wished for. The initial barrage of reaction - from the Internet-savvy minions of the left that were poised to make fun of  anything that came out of Netanyahu’s mouth, was almost gleeful rejoicing. They had known that they had to outdo the now-famous ‘nuclear duck’ meme following the Netanyahu AIPAC speech, (which Bibi himself had embraced) but they never dreamed it would be made that easy.

Even before the speech was complete, the viral cartoons began to hit the Internet. The immediate association when one looked at the drawing of the bomb was Looney Tunes. And so the very first images to hit the Internet involved the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

And then there’s been a lot of general playing around with the image: photos of Bibi using the red line to delineate between the place on a bag of potato chips where the chips end and the rest of the bag is filled with air - or how high to fill a kiddush cup of wine for the Friday night blessing.

And we haven’t seen the last of them. The meme has already travelled well beyond Israel and into the wider world. Everyone is not only talking about his message, but how he put across his message. How many speeches by world leaders inspire a caption contest in the New Yorker?

In the world of “any publicity is good publicity,” the gimmick was clearly a success. But did it really help move Netanyahu’s case forward in terms of motivating the global community to crack down on Iran and support his ‘red line’ or did it turn the whole thing into a joke?’ The jury is still out, but the debate is fascinating.

Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington’s uber-pundit on all things Israel and Iran, gave it a thumbs-down. In four consecutive Tweets, he declared:
                 
- “Okay, it's official: #Netanyahu has no idea what he's doing. He has just turned a serious issue into a joke.”

- “With all the Jewish comic book talent out there, he had to draw a Wile E. Coyote bomb?”   

- “Netanyahu's bomb cartoon is the Middle East equivalent of Clint Eastwood's chair.”

- “It is precisely because Iran's nuclear program is such a threat to Israel that turning to cartoon bombs to explain the issue is a lousy idea.”

But Paul Danahar, the Middle East bureau chief for the BBC - whom no one could accuse of being reflexively pro-Netanyahu - judged the gimmick a success in his Tweets.

- “#Israel's Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb has guaranteed he gets the front page photo from the UN tomorrow.”

- “Anyone remember what Abbas said? Is anyone talking about his statehood bid. Nope. Bibi has done what he set out to do he's set the agenda.”


Another pundit, Haviv Rettig Gur, contended that  the critics who were condemning or making fun of the speech weren’t Netanyahu’s audience. He wasn’t speaking to the Goldbergs or the Danahars of the world. Rettig Gur

“The scene mocked and belittled by pundits, observers and activists — was not meant for the delegates in the hall, or the journalists on Twitter. Netanyahu’s speech was not even meant for US President Barack Obama, who may ultimately decide the fate of the Iranian nuclear program. Instead, Netanyahu was speaking over Obama’s head, directly to the president’s employer and boss: the American voter.”

If you look beyond the official media pundits and delve into some of the grassroots commentary on Facebook and Twitter, amidst the ridicule is a level support in some quarters for the use of the visual aid. My friend Elana Sztokman wrote on her Facebook status:

“Why is everyone mocking Netanyahu's drawing? If it were a powerpoint screen or a flash video, wouldn't it have gotten more respect? How is his use of a pen and board to explain a complex idea more worthy of easy dismissal than all the rubbish that gets floated around the internet with clipart and bright colors as if it represents complex, intelligent ideas?”

Others, particularly those on the right, felt that the use of a simplistic and childish image was fitting, and considering the setting of the speech, it was better not to have it taken too seriously. One particularly sardonic humorous comment in that anti-United Nations vein came from a Facebook friend named Toby Klein Greenwald, who posted:

“I appreciate (Netanyahu's) visual aids. They work in all education, but having specialized in teaching the learning disabled, I can say it was especially appropriate for the UN.”