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Netanyahu’s Bomb Explodes on the Internet

LONDON — The day after Benjamin Netanyahu's cartoon representation of an Iranian nuclear bomb went viral on the Internet, opinion was divided on whether the Israeli prime minister's headline-grabbing prop was a stroke of presentational genius or a cheap gimmick.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, points to a red line he drew on a graphic of a bomb while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City.
Stan Honda | AFP | Getty Images
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, points to a red line he drew on a graphic of a bomb while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City.

With the aid of a Wiley E. Coyote-style cartoon bomb and a red marker pen, Mr. Netanyahu sought to underline the threat posed by Iran in a speech on Thursday to members of the United Nations General Assembly.

"The Israeli prime minister adopted the persona of an elementary school science teacher talking to a particularly dim class to explain Iran's nuclear program and the point at which it must be stopped," Harriet Sherwood wrote in The Guardian.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper said social media reaction to the cartoon prop ranged from the good to the bad to the ugly.

Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary, was among those who found it "effective" and "gripping:"

Bibi's use of that chart was one of the most effective, gripping, uses of a chart I've ever seen. Is the world listening??

- Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) September 27, 2012

Others, including Sam Stein, The Huffington's Post's political editor, suggested the Israeli leader was trivializing a serious issue:

Netanyahu has reduced nuclear war diplomacy to cartoons and markers

- Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) September 27, 2012

Reaction in Israel was mixed. Ynet News said most reaction to Mr. Netanyahu's U.N. speech focused on the bomb diagram and the red line, with Shaul Mofaz, the opposition Kadima leader, commenting:

"Netanyahu drew a pretty diagram, but he failed to draw an effective international road map towards stopping the nuclear program."

Joseph Dana, a Jerusalem-based journalist who writes about the Palestinian territories, correctly predicted that the cartoon would go viral.

Get ready for a 10,000 memes about Netanyahu's absurd bomb chart

- joseph dana (@ibnezra) September 27, 2012

The conservative Republican Rocks told Mr. Dana there was nothing wrong with keeping the message simple:

@ibnezra clearly, he was making it simple enough for the most uneducated person to understand. what exactly is wrong with that? #UNGA #GOP

- RepublicanRocks (@RepublicanRocks) September 27, 2012

My colleagues Rick Gladstone and David E. Sanger noted that — cartoon props aside — the substance of Mr. Netanyahu's speech suggested a softening of what had been a difficult dispute with the Obama administration on how to confront Iran over its nuclear program.

Was that message enhanced by, or buried, beneath the avalanche of reaction to Mr. Netanyahu's graphic bomb chart?

The Israeli leader certainly grabbed the headlines. But was it for the right reasons? Or should the U.N. ban props at the podium and tell world leaders to stick to a script?

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