By Roger Sheety
Satire, parody and humour in general have always been potent weapons in exposing and discrediting hegemonic powers, racist ideologues and their professional apologists. For example, cartoons both animated and not, were often used to great effect in mocking European Fascism and Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s. Later in the Cold War period, both Stanley Kubrick in his film Dr. Strangelove and Robert Altman in his 1970 satiric film MASH and the television series that followed also ridiculed American militarism and imperialism, while simultaneously exposing the lies and hypocrisy underlying U.S. warmongering. Kubrick and Altman, in stark contrast to the Hollywood/mainstream media propaganda machine, well understood the genocidal underpinnings of American imperialism and its ugly colonial progeny.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s September 2012 address at the U.N. General Assembly has now provided satirists with a rich source of humour for many years to come. It was a typical Netanyahu performance full of the usual historical fabrications, racism, lies and bellicose rhetoric worthy of a rogue, violent colonial-settler state based on the destruction of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of her people in 1948 and after. The increasingly dire situation in Palestine and for Palestinians is no laughing matter of course, but that should not stop one from mocking and thus revealing the true nature of the oppressor and its supremacist ideology, Zionism.
I will spare the dear reader the details of Netanyahu’s excruciating speech except to say that it was filled with the typical nonsense and propaganda summed up succinctly in this phrase: “It's because Israel cherishes life, that Israel cherishes peace and seeks peace.” This will certainly be news to the millions of Palestinians who have been dispossessed of their homes and ancestral lands by the colonial-setter usurping state as well as to the survivors of the myriad massacres and wars perpetrated by it and its collaborators over the last six and a half decades.
As awful as he was, however, the comic highlight (or lowlight if you like) was when Netanyahu pulled out a cartoon drawing of a bomb; a cartoon drawing right out of the world of Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Speaking to the highest diplomatic representatives of the world as if they were elementary school children, Netanyahu, without a trace of irony, proceeded to draw a red line in a bizarre and desperate attempt to coax his primary sponsor the United States to attack Iran. “So, how much enriched uranium do you need for a bomb? And how close is Iran to getting it?” he asked with apocalyptic seriousness. “Let me show you. I brought a diagram for you. Here’s the diagram. This is a bomb; this is a fuse.”
One wonders what kept the world’s diplomatic elite from bursting into laughter at this point. Here was the warmongering leader of the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, holding a silly cartoon picture of a bomb and yet completely unaware of how comical he appeared. As Lebanese-American professor and political commentator As’ad AbuKhalil noted on his blog for example, “Even the pro-Israeli Daily Show mocked it last night. I mean, with all the advisers and American consultants, there was no one to tell him how foolish he looks with his cheap prop and stupid illustration.”
If the U.N. General Assembly members were too inhibited from laughing, however, the world’s ordinary citizens were not. For within hours, dozens of photoshopped cartoon parodies of Netanyahu began appearing on Twitter, Facebook and various other online social media.
One such photo showed Netanyahu holding a cartoon of a terrified Daffy Duck with a lit bomb in his hands. Another portrayed Netanyahu as the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote holding the same original drawing of the bomb as the Coyote’s nemesis, the Roadrunner, appeared behind him. Yet another showed a smouldering and scorched Netanyahu with his gray hair standing on end after the cartoon bomb had apparently blown up in his hands and with the caption “That’s all folks!” written below.
But arguably the most effective altered photo showed Netanyahu holding four maps of Palestine, each one displaying the gradual loss of Palestinian land to Zionist conquest and theft since 1946. Emblazoned on the photo in white block letters above Netanyahu is the caption: “This is how much Palestinian land we’ve stolen.” These maps, which are based on actual, historic U.N. maps of Palestine, hold more truth within them than any speech that Netanyahu (or any Israeli leader for that matter) has ever made. In fact, this particular photoshopped picture of Netanyahu, though obviously faked, may well end up becoming more powerfully iconic than Israel’s propagandists ever imagined. And no doubt it was created at a fraction of the original cost. You might even say, figuratively of course, that Netanyahu’s bomb backfired and went off unexpectedly in his face.
Even The New Yorker magazine joined in mocking the Zionist state with a Netanyahu Caption Contest. “I know that the subject is serious,” wrote Robert Mankoff, “that is just one reason why the graphic, which he apparently made at Kinkos, is so ridiculous. And if Israeli intelligence thinks that’s what a real bomb looks like, maybe their other projections are off as well. I’m surprised he could get that thing past U.N. security. Anyway, with the justification that the ridiculous deserves ridicule, I invite you to pile it on, using this photo as the basis for a caption contest” (Newyorker.com/online, September 27, 2012).
Laughter and ridicule in the face of oppression or any supremacist ideology can signal the coming end of the oppressor; it is at minimum a breaking of the fear barrier or psychological discomfort which keeps many from speaking out against obvious injustice. “Israel,” a colonial-settler state which continues to dispossess Palestinians, which violates their most fundamental human rights with impunity on a daily basis, which claims to have invented everything from hummus to cell phones, which claims to be “holy” even as it destroys the homes and places of worship of indigenous Palestinians, and which practices apartheid in flagrant violation of international law, should certainly not be immune from our ridicule. We should laugh at “Israel” for the same reasons we mock all war criminals, elites, oppressors and hegemonic powers—because they deserve our derision. Indeed, it is the least they deserve.
- Roger Sheety is an independent writer and researcher. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.