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Did Bibi care how awful the pictures looked?

Anshel Pfeffer looks at the 'optics' of the events on the Gaza border

    (Credit: Getty/Flash90)
    (Credit: Getty/Flash90)

    Television screens across the world were split in half: one side showing the US embassy opening ceremony in Jerusalem; the other, scenes of carnage on the borders of the Gaza Strip.

    Did Benjamin Netanyahu, a master of media management, not realise on Monday how awful the pictures would look?

    And no less important, did he even care?

    The Trump administration chose May 14 as the date to hold the ceremonial opening of its new embassy, because it is the anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

    Of course, Israelis celebrate independence on the Hebrew date, the Fifth of Iyar, which this year fell nearly three weeks earlier.

    When this date was originally set no one in Washington — or, it seems, in Jerusalem — paid any thought to the fact that Palestinians observe May 15 as “Nakba Day”, when they commemorate the tragedy that befell them as hundreds of thousands of people were made refugees overnight by Israel’s establishment.

    It should have been obvious then that the adjacent dates would be a source of tension.

    By the time the series of violent protests on Gaza’s borders — which the Palestinians call the “Great Return March” — began on March 30, it was clear that Hamas, which moved quickly to assert control of the protests, planned for them to culminate on May 14-15.

    It was probably too late to back down and change the embassy ceremony date, but no one even tried. None were fully aware in the Trump White House, while in Mr Netanyahu’s office very few professionals remain who are capable of detecting such potential crises in advance.

    Most seasoned advisers have long since left the prime minister’s team — some now under criminal investigation.

    The communications department particularly has no lack of young millennials adept at building up Mr Netanyahu’s social media profile, but is woefully short of experience.

    And what about the prime minister himself?

    Was he too busy to micromanage such a world event? Too distracted by his own legal troubles? Too swept up in the hubris of his recent foreign policy triumphs?

    Or maybe he was aware of the explosive potential of the juxtaposition of the events and he simply didn’t mind.

    Just as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who in his last visit to Washington did not get to meet the President but went on the Fox and Friends morning show in the hope that Mr Trump was watching, Mr Netanyahu has also lately been crafting his message for an audience of one.

    The most powerful man in the world sees the world through a very different prism to that of many viewers.

    The Trump administration has fully endorsed Israel and placed the blame for the deaths on the Gaza border fully on the shoulders of Hamas.

    The fact is that if President Trump does not feel violence overshadowed the event in which his own daughter was guest of honour, then neither does Mr Netanyahu.

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