Prime Minister Netanyahu spent part of his Independence Day on Twitter, answering questions in a live Q&A session mediated through the hashtag #AskNetanyahu. The half-hour session produced a mix of policy messages and comic one-upmanship aimed at critical questioners.
Indeed, Netanyahu appeared to enjoy teasing his critics. Asked “are you human?”, Netanyahu replied robotically in binary, “01111001 01100101 01110011,” which translates as “yes.” Asked which of Middle East scholars Edward Said or Bernard Lewis he preferred, Netanyahu teased: “Come on, you can do better than that: hashtag, what went wrong with your question?”
When an Al Jazeera anchor asked Netanyahu whether he would accede to an interview, Netanyahu shot back that he would gladly accept an invitation to the studios in Doha, Qatar. Journalist Gregg Carlstrom asked Netanyahu in jest whether he worries that his foreign minister “isn’t fully committed to the job [since] we don’t hear much from him on diplomatic strategy.” Netanyahu, one will recall, is also Israel’s foreign minister (in addition to holding the communications, economy and regional cooperation portfolios). So Netanyahu responded with equal sarcasm, saying that he “speak[s] with the foreign minister every day” and that they “see eye to eye on everything.”
Some of these humorous answers bear the likely fingerprints of Netanyahu’s new foreign media spokesman, David Keyes, who replaced Mark Regev. Keyes attracted media attention last summer with his outré style of advocacy, when he “punked” Iranian diplomats at the Vienna nuclear negotiations, chasing them to ask who their favorite political prisoner was. On his Twitter account, Keyes has already cultivated his own brand of snarky humor in promoting the prime minister’s message, sarcastically thanking Iran for fighting ISIS and – in the same 140 characters – thanking “cancer for reducing the risk of heart attacks”.
Certain questions were answered for their humor value. Asked whether the dress in the viral meme is black-and-gold or blue-and-white, Netanyahu answered that it was “clearly” blue-and-white, holding up an Israeli flag for illustration. Wading into the Star Trek debate on which of Kirk or Picard is the better, Netanyahu expressed a preference for Spock instead.
Netanyahu also answered seriously on matters of policy. As French efforts to mediate a regional peace summit intensify, Netanyahu reminded the world that he was “ready to meet President Abbas today, right now” to negotiate peace bilaterally, inviting Abbas to his home in Jerusalem and even offering to go Ramallah instead himself. “I want you to forward that question to President Abbas,” he said, adding wryly: “hashtag, Ask Abbas.” Netanyahu also hinted cryptically at behind-the-scenes peace-making efforts: “There’s nothing I act for more, in many areas you’re not familiar with, and might yet hear of soon.” He repeated his mantra that his vision of “two states for two peoples” involves a “demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”
In other subjects, Netanyahu said that he hoped Zionist visionary Jabotinsky “would be proud” of Israel today, which “carries out his vision of a vibrant democracy for all citizens, Jew and Arab alike.” He termed the “rise of radical Islam, led by Iran and ISIS” – currently at war with each other – as “the greatest threat to Israel and the civilized world.” He said that he planned on “expanding Africa-Israel ties” and will visit east African countries soon. And he defended the Supreme Court from criticism – this in light of much political criticism of the court over the cancelled gas deal – calling it “part of our system of checks and balances.”
Needless to say, the invitation to #AskNetanyahu was hijacked by no few trolls. Netanyahu revelled in rebuffing the stunt’s critics. Asked whether he had fired its originator, he credited his dog Kaiya with the idea and offered to give her a treat. “Heck no,” he shot back when asked whether he regretted it. “I’m enjoying every minute of this.”