Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Netanyahu’s Act of Performance Art

The United Nations and the bomb diagram

Print Email

If you happened to catch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations—believe me, this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing about it—then you were treated to quite a show. Actually, given the muted quality of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday, Netanyahu is an early favorite to have stolen the General Assembly’s thunder.

What will be forgotten from Netanyahu’s speech is the stinging rebuke he opened with, in response to Ahmadinejad’s comments earlier in the week that Israel has “no roots” in the Middle East. What will also be overshadowed is the response Netanyahu offered to the disappointing speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas only minutes before, a feckless, visionless recitation by Abbas of half-truths and inflammatory charges that will do nothing to advance peace.

What you will hear about and most likely see splashed across front pages of newspapers around the world is the image of Prime Minister Netanyahu holding up a diagram of a cartoon bomb with a lit fuse. The diagram is so supposed to detail Iran’s progress in building an atomic weapon that could conceivably be used to murder millions of Israelis.

While this horrific idea was germinating behind a viewer’s eyes, Netanyahu pulled out a red sharpie and drew a broad red line to the exact point on the neck of the bomb that represents where Iran must be stopped in order to prevent its nuclear capability. Using IAEA intelligence estimates, Netanyahu predicted that, unless stopped, this benchmark will be achieved by Iran in the spring or early summer of 2013.

There seem to be two reactions floating around about the use of this prop. The first is that Netanyahu has made a mockery of the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability by presenting such a crude cartoon to drive home a point about an existential threat. The other response has been that this was an effective use of a prop to manage a message that may resonate in the days to come.

Well, was it primitive or simple? Reductive or clear? For what it’s worth, I’m too troubled by the content of the message to actually decide. There was something inherently surreal about watching a man of Netanyahu’s eloquence and intelligence (and yes, power) perform such a bizarre act of political performance art.

It was also the clearest Netanyahu has ever been about what “red line” he means to draw with regard to Iran’s nuclear program. In that it made me extremely anxious, I’d say it was effective. The question is whether anyone will take it seriously or not.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

There is something not just anxiety-causing, but totally bizzare about Netanyahu and AhmadinajadIranian bomb. Sure they are total opposites but ironically, over the years they created buzz for one another. Would one of them be so relevant without the other, I wonder?

It’s like this pre-written script where life has turned into an neverending “waiting for war” nightmarish situation, and we can’t escape it because its not just physical, its a mental neurosis. Its very serious but also very perplexing..

    Beatrix17 says:

    Ahmadinejad definitely needs Netanyahu. Netanyahu needs Ahmadinejad like he needs a third ear.

Cool_Romeo says:

“Netanyahu has made a mockery of the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability by presenting such a crude cartoon to drive home a point about an existential threat”
So people judge the threat by the production quality of the illustration?

Come on now….he didn’t go from clear and eloquent to being cartoonish and simple. I think it was a stroke of genius for him to have used this….because what was said above – “that this was an effective use of a prop to manage a message that may resonate in the days to come.” People will talk about it…and then will have to talk about the issue! If it had been some complicated diagram, people would have blocked it out.

CygnusA81 says:

What’s the problem with bomb diagram Adam? Is it still too complicated for you to understand?

Bibi’s artwork couldn’t have been more impressive if he had displayed the Mona Lisa.
With that crude illustration of a crude bomb he made it clear what a crude regime could accomplish if given the chance.
Yasher Koach, Mr. Prime Minister.

SteveSiporin says:

So, do you still think Bibi shouldn’t have shown up at the UN yesterday? (The point of yesterday’s column.) It would appear you changed your mind on that call.

Adam Chandler predicts that “forgotten from Netanyahu’s speech” will be “the stinging rebuke he opened with, in response to Ahmadinejad’s comments earlier in the week that Israel has ‘no roots’ in the Middle East.” But, I hope what Prime Minister Netanyahu said in this regard will be remembered because it had real significance: “Three thousand years ago, King David reigned over the Jewish state in our eternal capital, Jerusalem. […] The Jewish people have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years. Even after most of our people were exiled from it, Jews continued to live in the land of Israel throughout the ages. The masses of our people never gave up the dream of returning to our ancient homeland.” This statement is exceedingly important because it directly bears on Jewish aboriginal rights. The Jewish People was born in Eretz Israel, probably in the 6th century BCE, around the same time as choice of the name “Yehudim,” the emergence of the Biblical Hebrew language and the construction of the religion of Judaism. Since the 6th century BCE, there has never been a single day when Eretz Israel was without some Jews. For sure, Jews were not always the majority there, as they are undoubtedly again today. However, across the centuries, the great Jewish People always kept and renewed real demographic and strong cultural ties to its aboriginal homeland. Generally, Jews have some sense that the Jewish People was born in Eretz Israel. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu is to be commended for recalling that some Jews have lived there continually across the centuries. Thus, the Jewish People’s claim to Eretz Israel is akin to the claim of the Greek People to Greece and that of the North American aboriginal tribes to their ancestral lands. Throughout the centuries, the many Jews returning to join other Jews in Eretz Israel are not to be compared with the 16th-century Pilgrim Fathers who had neither kin nor ancestors in the New World.

Louie the Lip says:

If I had as many nuclear weapons as Israel has, I wouldn’t worry. The Sunni Saudi Arabs should worry, because THEY have treated Shia Muslims like ANIMALS for 1400 years.

Effective? It was Brilliant!


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Netanyahu’s Act of Performance Art

The United Nations and the bomb diagram

More on Tablet:

Kerry Links Rise of ISIS With Failed Peace Talks

By Lee Smith — Secretary of State: ‘I see a lot of heads nodding’