Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suddenly fallen in love with the three-minute video clip.
For the fifth time in a matter of months, the prime minister released a carefully crafted video on Wednesday that took off in the social media universe, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers across a number of platforms in a matter of hours.
And in a reflection of the new video-clip driven news world, the subject of Netanyahu’s comment itself was a video clip that went viral a day earlier of a Palestinian man urging his flag-waving four-year-old son to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers, while calling on them to shoot his boy.
Even as that video went viral on Tuesday, B’Tselem – perhaps in an effort to counterbalance it – released one filmed a week earlier of a border policeman in Hebron snatching and throwing into the bushes an eight-year-old girl’s bicycle.
Netanyahu, in an increasingly familiar pose behind his desk, next to an Israeli flag, and in front of Talmud-laden bookshelves and a family portrait, looked squarely into the camera and said in English, with Hebrew subtitles, “I’ve just watched a video that shook me to the core of my being. In just a few second, it shows why our conflict persists.”
The prime minister showed a short snippet from the clip, and explained that the Palestinian father “pushes his young son forward toward the soldiers and screams, ‘Kill him! Shoot him!’ The boy pauses. He is scared. Any child would be. He turns back, looking at his father for guidance.
“With his shirt tightly tucked into his bright red shorts, the boy ambles forward towards the soldiers. One of them extends his hand in friendship. The boy gives him a high-five. It’s hard to make a four-year-old hate.”PA TV falsifies video to hide handshake between Israeli soldier and boy
The nature of Netanyahu’s delivery, the language used (“bright red shorts,” a “highfive”), is all very personal, and similar to the other videos the premier has recently released: one following the Orlando terrorist attack in June that the Financial Times hailed as “a masterclass in responding to tragedy”; another following the murder in Kiryat Arba of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, in June; a third in July to the LGBT community before the annual gay pride march in Jerusalem; and last week’s clip in which he again apologized for his preelection 2015 comments about Arabs coming out to vote in droves, this time saying he wanted them to “thrive in droves.”
All of these videos, as senior government officials acknowledge, bear the hallmark of David Keyes, the prime minister’s English-language spokesman who took over from Mark Regev in March.
Keyes is spending less time than Regev did with the traditional press, and more on getting the prime minister’s message out on platforms that will get the most traffic. He came to his job with experience in producing videos that go viral, having made several widely viewed satirical videos of the Iranian nuclear negotiations when he headed a human rights organization in New York.
“Israel and the prime minister have much to be proud of,” Keyes said. “This approach is enabling tens of millions of people globally to see the truth about both.”
Personalizing the message is a key. For instance, in the recent video Netanyahu said, “Imagine your own child at that age.
Think of his smile. Imagine her laugh. Picture the unrestrained joy and innocence that only a child possesses. Encouraging someone to murder a child – let alone your own child – is probably the most inhumane thing a person can do.”
The videos are also aimed not at only repeating the line that Israel and the West share values, but at having Netanyahu give concrete illustrations.
“Palestinian and Israeli children deserve better. They deserve to live,” he said. “They deserve to live in peace. Children are not cannon fodder. They are the most precious things in the world. They’re the most precious things we have. I’m sure Palestinian parents, many of them, are as outraged as I am at this video. And today I appeal to every father and mother around the world. I ask you to join me in calling for an end to this abuse of children.”
If in years past the videos coming out of the Prime Minister’s Office were largely snippets of his speeches, and if Facebook was used then by the PMO primarily to distribute two-paragraph statements read by a few thousand people at most, these videos aim to spread the reach of Netanyahu’s message to the maximum number of people. According to the PMO’s figures, Netanyahu’s last five videos garnered nearly 40 million views.
Some have described this formula as the updated version of Franklin Roosevelt’s highly effective fireside chats. Whether those listening to the message believe or are convinced by it are different questions.
But one thing is unarguable: Netanyahu’s message – without the interpretation of anyone in the middle – is reaching far more people than ever before.
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