It was presumably going to be just another typical combative day online in the Middle East in which Israelis and Palestinians grappled with continuing “wave of terror” which has not yet been officially dubbed the third intifada. There was some hope that local tragedies might be leavened by the fact that Wednesday, October 21 was officially “Back to the Future Day” - the date on which the fictional characters in Steven Spielberg’s hit film trilogy travelled to the future.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu changed all that when he shocked his citizens - and the world - with deeply controversial remarks in a speech the previous evening. He stunned observers by recounting a twisted version of history, asserting that it was actually Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini who planted the seeds for the Final Solution in the mind of Adolf Hitler. The German dictator, according to Netanyahu, only wanted to expel the Jews from Europe, but the mufti, who didn’t want them in Palestine, whispered in Hitler’s ear that he should “burn them.”
He quickly attempted to recant, protesting that "I didn't mean to absolve Hitler of responsibility, but to show that the father of the Palestinian nation wanted to destroy the Jews.” But it was too late - Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media platform was already flooded with humorous memes, jokes and takes on the story that has been discounted by nearly every serious scholar of the Holocaust, with ridicule in both Hebrew and English.
It was one of those cases where it was challenging to come up with humor more absurd than the situation itself. It is doubtful that Jon Stewart nor John Oliver or any of the late-night satirists could imagine headlines that have the government of Germany declaring that they were responsible for the Holocaust and Netanyahu fighting off charges that he was a Holocaust denier and was offloading Hitler’s responsibility for the Holocaust onto the mufti. And all on the eve of a trip to, of all places, Berlin.
Almost immediately, visual memes hashtags like #muftisays and #themuftichangedmymind and #themuftimademedoit exploded across social media platforms. Most focused on the absurdity of the theory of the Mufti’s exaggerated persuasive powers influencing Hitler, like American-Israeli journalist Ami Kaufman’s post:
I thought about voting for Bernie, but after talking to the Mufti, I decided Trump would make a better leader. #themuftichangedmymind
In a clever integration of the Netanyahu scandal with “Back to the Future” a photo of the film’s bad guy, Biff Tannen, reading, “I was OK, too, until I met that Mufti.”
Another steals a famous scene out of the original “Back to the Future” to explain Netanyahu’s bizarre revelation, with the Israeli prime minister being slipped a note that reads, “Mr. Netanyahu, I’ve got something for you. It’s a note from 1941.”
With U.S. comedian Jerry Seinfeld particularly popular in Israel - the comedian recently sold out four scheduled shows in Tel Aviv in December, several memes referenced Seinfeldian humor.
Artist Shira Glazerman contributed a historic Bibi photobomb, as well as pointing the finger at the mufti for other nefarious deeds like breaking up the Beatles.
One particularly black-humored photo has the assassin of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meeting with the Mufti, captioned “the real story,"and another photo “unmasks” Hitler.
The ever-popular “Hitler Finds Out” video meme a natural a vehicle for satirizing the situation.
In a Hebrew-subtitled version called “Hitler Refuses the Mufti’s Order to Kill Jews” the dictator tantrums “Does this Mufti think we Germans are animals? True the Jews are annoying, but why such violence? Our army will never kill even one Jew! Who does that guy think he is?
In English, there was “Hitler Finds Out That Bibi Thinks the Grand Mufti Convinced Hitler to Kill Jews." In it, Hitler asks “Since when is Bibi a Holocaust denier? I didn’t murder six million Jews so that some Mufti a million miles away would get the credit! So now Bibi distorts history at my expense just to prove some political point?”
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