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Lessons from Biebergate

The comical contretemps is actually an important, depressing sign

Liel Leibovitz
April 13, 2011
Justin Bieber performing earlier this month.(Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Justin Bieber performing earlier this month.(Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

Future historians studying the current Netanyahu administration won’t have to look much further than his botched meeting with pop sensation Justin Bieber to understand just how dysfunctional his regime was.

Bieber’s people have released several evasive accounts of just why the singer and Israel’s prime minister never met, fluctuating from a flat-out denial that a meeting was ever scheduled in the first place to a softer statement citing logistical difficulties. It seems clear that the prime minister’s invitation of children from the south threatened by Gaza missiles was not unrelated to the cancellation. But regardless of what exactly came to pass, a few things are inarguable:

• Despite his image as the polished and cunning manipulator of public opinion, Bibi is incompetent at public relations. In inviting the children, Bibi chose not to present Israel as a normal country where normal kids do normal things like listen to Justin Bieber, but rather to insist that the spotlight be turned back toward the darker side of Israeli life, to the conflict and the rockets and the grief.

Bibi is incompetent at diplomacy. Never mind not being able to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Bieber? Bieber? Once upon a time, the Israeli definition of overcoming logistical difficulties meant sending a team to Argentina to capture Eichmann or to Entebbe to rescue hostages; now, it means playing phone tag with a kid who sings songs called “Baby” and “One Less Lonely Girl.”

Bibi is incompetent at telling the truth. As recent investigative reports in the Israeli press show, the prime minister is a master at stretching, bending, tweaking, and otherwise torturing the truth. As soon as Bibi announced that the meeting had been canceled, both Bieber’s people as well as, curiously, representatives of the Israeli children stricken by terrorism, on whose inclusion in the meeting Bibi allegedly insisted, denied the prime minister’s account. Granted, this is far from a matter of national importance, but a lie, as one Israeli politician after another has learned in recent years, is a lie is a lie is a lie.

Israelis and supporters of the Jewish state should be outraged by Biebergate. I’m serious! This brief and comical affair is actually a dead-serious indication that the leadership in Jerusalem is morally corrupt, intellectually bankrupt, and just plain ineffective. Baby, it’s time for a change.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.