Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a well-honed strategy when it comes to hammering home his message, particularly when it involves the Iranian existential threat. He knows that in order to make a real impact when you’re repeating yourself, you need a gimmick – preferably one with a visual impact the international media can’t resist.
But his decision at Sunday’s Munich Security Conference – brandishing a piece of wreckage from an Iranian drone (shot down over Israel on February 10) – took his philosophy of “a picture is worth a thousand words” to a whole new level.
Until now, most of Netanyahu’s gimmicks have involved documents: drawings, photographs, maps. But to make his point this time, he went beyond pen and ink, holding an even more dramatic prop above his head.
The scene was heightened by the presence of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the audience and Netanyahu’s decision to challenge him directly: “Do you recognize it? You should, it’s yours. Don’t test Israel’s resolve.”
Zarif may have scoffed at Netanyahu’s tactics, calling them a “cartoonish circus” designed “to blame others for [Israel’s] own strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they’re facing.” On a PR level, though, they were a huge success, grabbing headlines worldwide.
And domestically, Netanyahu’s confrontational moment in Munich quickly inspired an avalanche of memes on social media.
Several of the memes posted on Twitter were political barbs – one turned the wreckage into a case of cigars; another covered it with brands of the potential criminal cases hanging over Netanyahu’s head. Others were just plain silly.
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The Israeli leader’s history of using props and visual aids dates back more than a decade. Perhaps the most famous instance was his 2012 United Nations speech in which he stunned diplomats and inspired endless Internet jokes by using an amateurish black-and-white drawing of a bomb with a fuse that showed Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons.
“I brought a diagram for you,” he told the assembled diplomats. “Here’s the diagram. This is a bomb. This is a fuse.”
Then, using a red marker, he literally drew a red line at the stage at which he believed Iranian nuclear development needed to be curtailed.
But the bomb wasn’t the first time Netanyahu used his “show-and-tell” approach.
Earlier that same year, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he held up copies of letters sent between the U.S. government and the World Jewish Congress regarding the dangers of Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II.
“Some commentators would have you believe that stopping Iran from getting the bomb is more dangerous than letting Iran have the bomb,” he said. “They say that a military confrontation with Iran would undermine the efforts already underway; that it would be ineffective; and that it would provoke an even more vindictive response by Iran. I’ve heard these arguments before. In fact, I’ve read them before.”
Back in 2009, he again went visual. At the UN assembly, he shot back at then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had called the Holocaust a “lie,” and his statements the previous day when, Netanyahu said, he “stood at this very podium and spewed his anti-Semitic rants.”
“Is this protocol a lie?” Netanyahu asked, shaking a copy of the minutes of the Wannsee Conference (the 1942 meeting during which Nazi officials planned the Final Solution).
The prime minister also held up the architectural blueprints of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps and asked, “Are the successive German governments that have kept these documents for posterity all liars?”
In his 2014 UN speech, he digressed from the usual Iran message, instead fighting back against condemnations of Israel’s bombing operations in the Gaza war. He held up an image of a child in Gaza frolicking next to a rocket launcher, in order to illustrate his claim that “Hamas deliberately placed its rockets where Palestinian children live and play.”
In addition to the headlines and memes, there was another sign Netanyahu’s approach has impacted the international diplomatic arena, and that he might actually be a trendsetter. A Munich Security Conference official tweeted that other speakers at the gathering were letting their visuals do the talking as well.