Despite the delays and distractions due to events in Afghanistan, Friday’s meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. President Joe Biden was widely viewed as a success, achieving its modest goals of setting a friendly tone between the two leaders and presenting a united front on Iran and other key issues.
The absence of any obvious gaffes and failures apparently posed a problem for partisan supporters of former President Donald Trump and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who were poised to attack at the first sign of any misstep.
In the absence of any scandal, it seems, online warriors for Trump and Netanyahu decided to manufacture one.
Soon after Bennett and Biden’s photo op in the Oval Office, where the two leaders exchanged pleasantries and declarations – and where Bennett in particular spoke at length – a 22-second video clip went viral on social media, appearing to show Biden sound asleep in his armchair as Bennett addressed the media.
In Israel, the video initially appeared on the Twitter feed of Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu loyalist Galit Distal Atbaryan, who wrote that the scene was “monstrously comic.” She castigated the Israeli media for failing to report about it, in a viral tweet that has racked up more than 5 million views, before being flagged by Twitter as "manipulated."
“For some reason, the Israeli media itself fell asleep and did not notice this historic moment,” Distal Atbaryan tweeted to her followers. “I thought you should know about this. The man fell asleep and they simply didn’t care.”
Right-wing social media users – and the mainstream media – took up her call to circulate the clip. The website of Israel Hayom, still widely seen as a mouthpiece for former premier Netanyahu, splashed the headline “Did Biden fall asleep during meeting with Bennett?”
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In the United States, meanwhile, pro-Trump social media accounts jumped quickly on the bandwagon, poking fun at Biden “dozing off” and “nodding off.” One of these came from Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert.
Also keen to circulate this version of the story? Iranian and North Korean media.
A review of the full video, however, clearly demonstrates that the video has been manipulated – hardly the first time such a thing has happened to make it appear Biden was nodding off, in accordance with Trump’s nickname for him: Sleepy Joe.
In the short section of the video posted by right-wing social media accounts (beginning at 12:42 of this clip on C-Span), Biden’s eyes were downcast, appearing closed.
But Biden was, in fact, wide awake – alert enough to make a cutting remark at the 13:15 mark in the clip, right after he was accused of being asleep, telling Bennett to give former President Barack Obama more credit for the good relationship between the two countries.
Even before reports of the video manipulation were published by major media fact-checkers, vigilant viewers on Twitter were quick to refute the story that Biden had somehow chosen to nap in front of Bennett, the Israeli media and the White House press corps, showing the footage from different angles and Biden’s movements to demonstrate that he hadn’t been sleeping.
Such tricks “might help you get retweets from people in your bubble, but it won’t actually help you win votes outside it,” tweeted journalist Yair Rosenberg. “What’s really going on here, of course, is that Biden had a perfectly positive meeting with the Israeli prime minister, which frustrates Trumpkin attempts to paint Biden as anti-Israel. Since they have no substance to dispute with him here, they fabricated this instead.”
Despite the widespread debunking, partisans on social media have continued to post the “Sleepy Joe” video. Some tweets of the clip now feature a “Manipulated video” warning from Twitter.