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Opinion: Satire Versus Bibi | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) delivers a speech to a joint meeting of Congress on the floor of the US House of Representatives, in front of US House Speaker Republican John Boehner (C) and Republican Senator from Utah Orrin Hatch (R) in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, on March 3, 2015. (EPA/Shawn Thew)

US President Barack Obama has appeared weak and nervous ever since what can only be described as the insult leveled at him by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who exceeded the limits of diplomatic decorum last week when he addressed the US Congress while delivering a stinging indictment of Obama’s foreign policy. Ostensibly about the “bad deal” which Obama is hoping to sign with Tehran on its nuclear program, Netanyahu’s speech was actually a derisory and insulting polemic against the US president delivered in his own back yard and to the sound of thunderous applause—an unprecedented event by anyone’s estimation and one which ignored the most basic rudiments of political etiquette.

Netanyahu’s speech was nothing but a direct challenge to Obama and his foreign policy, with the US president taking the blow from the Israeli PM, seemingly powerless to deliver a counterpunch of any kind. The same went for the Democrats, who were satisfied with simply boycotting the speech, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who could barely control her rage after hearing it, later admitting it had left her “near tears.”

The nauseating way Republicans in Congress fêted Netanyahu and their fawning reactions to his speech have worried many in the US, who see it as ludicrous that a leader of a foreign country—even one as close an ally to the US as Israel is—was received so warmly by some in the country when, judging by his speech, he obviously regards American foreign policy with considerble contempt. Criticism of Netanyahu from politicians, whichever party they belong to, will, due to the diktats of modern diplomacy, always take a more measured and carefully chosen tone. Criticism from other sources, however, is not so constrained.

Indeed, the most stinging criticism of Netanyahu and the astonishing extent of his hubris came from outside political or diplomatic spheres, none more so than veteran satirist and host of The Daily Show John Stewart. In his usual irreverent, uncompromising style, Stewart delivered perhaps the most damning criticism yet of Netanyahu, showing his viewers how the Israeli prime minister’s speech contradicted other things he has said during the last 19 years and, significantly, since Stewart is Jewish himself, lampooning Netanyahu’s audacious contention that he speaks for Jews around the world.

But Stewart was not alone in his desire to denigrate and make fun of the Israeli premier. Noy Alooshe, an Israeli musician of Tunisian descent—and famous for his hilarious autotune remix of Muammar Gaddafi’s “Zenga Zenga” speech in 2011— produced a remix of Netanyahu’s Congress speech, editing excerpts from it to reveal the inherent contradictions in the Israeli premier’s position on Iran’s nuclear program. Alooshe says his unique form of political satire derives from the anger he feels when listening to politicians and their often-contradictory stances. So what better way is there to express this anger than to take it out on the speeches which caused it in the first place? “Bibi” of course is no different, and has been on the end of Alooshe’s acerbic video and music vignettes a number of times.

Many today see satire as one of the most prominent forms of dissent there is, whereby in attempting to ridicule politicians one cuts through the spin and the deliberate public relations pyrotechnics with which those in power seek to dazzle us and shamelessly aggrandize themselves. The wonderful thing about this kind of dissent is that when it is done well the satirist will always come out on top, as politicians by their very nature cannot respond to this kind of criticism without further embarrassing themselves or weakening their positions.

This is a time of vocal political protest in the Middle East and around the world, and when this is combined with various technological tools, such as online social media outlets, one is able to respond and voice one’s protest—whether satirical, musical, or in Alooshe’s case a combination of both—almost as quickly as an event, or speech, unfolds.

Stewart and Alooshe’s brilliant satirical attempts show us how this form of dissent can knock those in power off from their jealously guarded perches. Yes, satire has become an indispensable part of the arsenal of modern political dissent. Unfortunately for us in the Middle East, satire is, for this very reason, rightly regarded by regional politicians as inherently dangerous to them, and some of its practitioners have met their ends as a result of their efforts. Watching Stewart and Alooshe laying into Netanyahu reminded me of what we have lost: Oh, how we miss you, Bassem Youssef.