Stop calling him ‘Bibi’

Israel/Palestine
on 58 Comments

Netanyahu
Israeli P.M. Netanyahu, from his twitter feed

The media should stop calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname, Bibi.

A nickname humanizes a politician. It makes them seem more affectionate. Very few if any politicians are referred to by their nicknames. Do the media call Prime Minister Cameron David? Do they say, Francois, the president of France? They don’t.

When Joe Biden repeatedly called Netanyahu Bibi last night in the debate, yes it bothers me, because our politicians are way too soft on Israel. But Biden is namedropping in that way because the mainstream press calls him that. And that’s the real issue here: when you see discussions on TV or in the press, Netanyahu is often referred to by his nickname.

Stop and think if he had an English nickname. Let’s call him Ricky– and every time Netanyahu came up, he was called “Ricky.”  ”Ricky says Israel wants peace in the Middle East…. Ricky says Israel is just protecting itself in Gaza… Ricky says let’s be very careful of Iran developing a bomb.” Do you see how absurd that sounds? No one would call him Ricky, and if they did it it would tone down what he really stands for and what he really is.

Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have a nickname? He may well have one for all we know. But the mainstream press wouldn’t use it, because it would serve the same purpose, to humanize and minimize. When Ahmadinejad is a very bad man too.

This is not a conspiracy. But it is evidence of unconscious bias on the part of the media. Because Bibi, to an English speaker, sounds a little childish. “Bibi” makes him out to be more benign than he actually is. He’s not benign. And when they call him Bibi– and again this is all unconscious and inadvertent– it gives the impression that this is a goofy guy who holds up a Wile E Coyote picture of a bomb at the U.N.; he seems a little bit of a bumbler;  he seems the equivalent in the political sphere of those two thieves who were foiled by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone —  bad but inept and goofy.

Instead of a liar who presides over a nuclear powered colonial state that people are killed for opposing, where thousands are imprisoned and many of them, according to international human rights agencies, are tortured, and where the death of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old innocent young woman, was recently whitewashed.

Now it’s not that the mainstream press should call him insulting names. They shouldn’t. And partly this is because he has a  long last name, and it may be too difficult to say Netanyahu all the time. 

But they shouldn’t say “Bibi” and shouldn’t say “Bibi Netanyahu.” There’s a mainstream convention that you call people by their names. Let’s stick with it: he’s “Netanyahu,” or “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

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