The White House was encouraged by the confident projection
That Bibi might be beaten in his bid for re-election.
But all the hopes they cherished were completely disappointed
And the fellow who annoyed them was once again anointed.

            There was material in abundance for satirists of all persuasions in the March 2015 Israeli elections.

            To begin with there was what it revealed about the relationship between Israel and the U.S. That relationship had been strained when the Israeli prime minister, invited by the Speaker of the House and by-passing the President, was ecstatically applauded by Republicans in Congress when he told them why a potential nuclear treaty with Iran should be opposed. The “New Yorker”s Andy Borowitz mocked this Netanyahu-Republican symbiosis by having  Boehner call Netanyahu “our closest and most important ally in the fight against President Obama”, with Netanyahu returning the compliment: “Your refusal to find any common ground with him has earned my undying respect.” And “The Onion” had Netanyahu devoting part of his speech to the evils of Obamacare.

            Next came a letter from 47 Republican Senators to Iran’s leaders making clear their opposition to the proposed treaty. To this Borowitz had North Korea’s Kim Jon-un complaining that he felt snubbed that Iran but not North Korea was being targeted by the senators: “I don’t like to beat myself up, but part of me is like what does Iran have that I don’t have? Sometimes I feel like, when you actually get nuclear weapons, people start taking you for granted.”

            So when it became clear that Netanyahu, despite most predictions, had been re-elected,, a Dave Grunland cartoon had Bibi  begin his victory speech with: “First I want to thank my two campaign managers, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell…” 

            Obama was infuriated not only by the result but by Netanyahu’s conduct of the  campaign, notably his appeal to far-right settlers by reneging on previous support for an ultimate two-state solution and a warning that Israeli Arabs were going to the polls “in droves.” Bibi pulled back from both of these positions after the election. But a cartoon by Sack had Netanyahu bowdlerizing  FDR’s great inaugural speech as:” The Only Thing We Have  To Fear is Fear Itself ”  And Gary Varvel depicted a television set pronouncing “Netanyahu Wins” being thrown through a White House window.  

            Within Israel, too, there was nervousness about Netanyahu’s alliance  with the Republican party and his defiance of Obama on Iran and the settlements. But this was only one theme in a wide-ranging  controversy over Netanyuhu’s foreign and domestic policies – all consistent with Israel’s  history of uninhibited ridicule of a succession of leaders by satirists.            

            So Netanyahu was pummeled in newspaper and magazine columns and cartoons.  The opposition Labor party even put out an entire spoof newspaper mocking a free Israeli newspaper (Yisrael Hayom – Israel Today) published by the American mogul, Sheldon Adelson.   

            But it was television that captured the largest audiences for satirical commentary on the campaign. Israeli politics have been enlivened by two popular television programs.

            “State of the Nation” (Matzov Ha’Uma) is a panel show of four comedians conducting  disrespectful interviews with political and other leaders. During the post-election process of forming a government after the 2013 election a cast member regaled Netanyahu with a list of all the terrible things at home and abroad that had allegedly happened during his government’s tenure. Even the government’s one alleged accomplishment, the building of a wall around the West Bank to keep out terrorists, was criticised: “We would have run away but you built a fence around us”.

            But in 2015 the onset of the campaign coincided with the beginning of the twelfth  season of the weekly “Wonderful Country” (Eretz Nehederet), a program featuring skits and fake news reports that attracted an estimated 30% of the TV audience.  The current season has included a “Star Wars” skit depicting Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews as stormtroopers; ultranationlist leader Naftal Bennett lobbying for money to build settlements on Pluto; foreign minister  Avigdor  Lieberman as a Russian thug; and Labor Party leader,  Isaac Herzog, as a pallid nerd trying to control his unfortunately high-pitched voice. But, of course, it was the man at the apex of the system, Bibi Netanyahu, who had to be the prime target and thus the only possible  evil emperor in a Star Wars sketch.

            Yet Netanyahu did not allow himself to show resentment at being the main target of the satirists. In fact, he used satire in his own TV ads. In contrast with his long-established dour and assertive demeanor the new ads on YouTube portrayed him as warm and friendly. He was a kindergarden teacher trying to control the unruly members of his cabinet, and he was a “Bibi-sitter”, offering to look after the children of a young couple , convincing them that that, if they used Labor leader Herzog, “our children would have to take care of him.”  

            But If this new, people-friendly Bibi commended itself to many Israeli voters, it clearly did not convince Barack Obama. On a visit to Israel in 2013 Obama had dismissed reports of friction between him and Bibi as “a plot to create material for Eretz Nehedereret.” Now he was not mollified by Netanyahu’s apology to Israeli Palestinian voters for his alarmist campaign warnings. Nor was Obama convinced by Netanyahu’s assurance that, if only the right conditions were in place, a two-state solution might yet be possible:

On Israel the experts concur in a view:
Instead of one country there ought to be two.
Although the idea is too good to ignore
I’m afraid that we’ve been there quite often before.



Posted on Saturday, March 28, 2015 (Archive on Friday, December 22, 2017)



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