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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses hand sanitizer during a welcoming ceremony Nov. 26, 2020, for the first flydubai commercial flight to arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. (AP) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses hand sanitizer during a welcoming ceremony Nov. 26, 2020, for the first flydubai commercial flight to arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. (AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses hand sanitizer during a welcoming ceremony Nov. 26, 2020, for the first flydubai commercial flight to arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone February 20, 2024

Netanyahu mic moment seen in Instagram video misses context about COVID-19 pandemic

If Your Time is short

  • A video that showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking for hand sanitizer before touching a microphone a United Arab Emirates official handed him took place during the COVID-19 pandemic’s apex. Netanyahu had for months urged Israelis to take preventive measures, such as hand-washing.

  • Netanhayu has on several occasions shaken hands with Arab leaders without requesting hand sanitizer. In 2019, he accepted a microphone from Yemen’s foreign minister when his own did not work.

  • Learn more about PolitiFact’s fact-checking process and rating system.

More than four months into the Israel-Hamas war, one social media user shared a 4-year-old video and suggested it shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu finds Arabs unclean.

A Feb. 19 Instagram post shared a video of Netanyahu at a news conference receiving a microphone from someone the post described as a United Arab Emirates official. Netanyahu started to reach for the mic, then wagged his index finger and rubbed his hands together, summoning someone offscreen.

Sticker text above the video read, "Netanyahu refuses to take mic from UAE official that is a sign of disrespect in Arab culture."

"Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to take a microphone from a UAE official and calls his aid to bring him hand sanitizers which suggests that they are unclean," the post’s caption read. The caption also said that perhaps Netanyahu feared "there was an explosive in the mic as some leaders in the past have been targeted with explosives in mics."

This Instagram post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The Instagram post omits crucial context about the video to make it seem as if Netanyahu refused to touch the microphone because an Arab man handed it to him. 

(Instagram screenshot)

We found the full video on the prime minister’s official X account, @IsraeliPM. It was from a ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, celebrating the first commercial airplane flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Israel.

"This is the first commercial flight from Dubai to Israel. It is a historic flight," the Nov. 26, 2020 X post read, linking to a news release from the prime minister’s office, which quoted Netanyahu.

In the video, after refusing the mic at first, an aide brought Netanyahu hand sanitizer, which the Israeli leader rubbed on his hands before continuing to speak.

The event’s date, November 2020, was the first clue that the Instagram post was misleading. The world was amid a raging COVID-19 pandemic then. There were no vaccines available and health officials were urging people to use preventive measures such as masking, social distancing, hand-washing and hand sanitizer. A month after this event, Israel announced a third national lockdown because of surging coronavirus cases in that country.

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The event’s full video shows more context about Netanyahu’s motives in requesting the hand sanitizer. It shows him arriving at the event with his aides, everyone wearing masks, including Netanyahu. Instead of shaking hands with people, Netanyahu greeted people with elbow bumps.

Benjamin Netanyahu bumps arms with people before news conference at Israel airport in Novemberr 2020.

In March 2020, Netanyahu urged Israelis to change their behavior in response to the pandemic, including to refrain from shaking hands, according to the text of his address published by The Times of Israel.

"We love to embrace. We love to shake hands. We love to kiss. No more," Netanyahu said. "I have already specified certain changes that we need to make. First, to refrain from shaking hands, to wash hands. We will also issue directives about that again, repeatedly, to maintain personal hygiene."

Netanyahu apparently forgot his own handshake directive in June 2020 when meeting with Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy to Iran in former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Later, Netanyahu realized his mistake.

Benjamin Netanyahu speaking with U.S. official Brian Hook in June 2020.

"I was so swept away by the strength of our friendship that I grasped your hand," Netanyahu said to Hook at a news conference. "So now, we’ll do this because we’re committed to the corona regime — and to our friendship."

The two men then used hand sanitizer before bumping elbows for the cameras. 

"Elbow shake," Netanyahu said. "That’s it. That’s as far as we go."

Historical photos and videos show Netanyahu shaking hands with Arab leaders in the past, such as Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat in 1996, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2010, 2015 and 2016. A 2018 video shows Netanyahu shaking hands with Sultan Qaboos bin Said during a visit to Oman and a 2019 photo shows him shaking hands with Oman’s foreign minister.

In 2019, Netanyahu attended a conference on Middle East peace in Warsaw, Poland. According to Trump’s U.S. peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, the prime minister’s microphone stopped working as he was about to address delegates in a session closed to the press. Khaled Alyemany, Yemen’s foreign minister, who was sitting next to Netanyahu, let him use his, The Times of Israel reported. Hand sanitizer wasn’t mentioned.

The Instagram claim that Netanyahu refused to touch a microphone because an Arab man handed it to him misleads about the context surrounding the incident. It came during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and as Netanyahu was publicly urging Israelis to take preventive measures like washing hands frequently. The claim is False.

Our Sources

Prime Minister of Israel, X post, Nov. 26, 2020

Prime Minister’s Office, PM Netanyahu's Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for the First Flydubai Commercial Flight from Dubai, Nov. 26, 2020​

Reuters, Israel imposing third national COVID-19 lockdown, Dec. 24, 2020

YouTube video, watch flydubai's inaugural flight arrive at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport., Nov. 26, 2020

Flydubai, flydubai lands in Tel Aviv, Nov. 26, 2020

The Times of Israel, Netanyahu on beating the virus: ‘We love to embrace, shake hands, kiss. No more’, March 12, 2020

The Times of Israel, Netanyahu shakes hands with US official, violating virus rules, June 30, 2020

The Times of Israel, Netanyahu hails ‘cooperation’ as Yemeni FM hands him a mic, Feb. 14, 2019

Al Jazeera, Yemen FM faces backlash for smiling, sitting next to Netanyahu, Feb. 15, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister, YouTube video, PM Netanyahu Meets US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, June 30, 2020

NBC News, Sultan of Oman welcomes Israel’s PM Netanyahu, Oct. 26, 2018

The Guardian, Do Netanyahu’s smiles with Arab leaders signal a new era?, Feb. 14, 2019

Washington Post, Netanyahu and Abbas shake hands for the first time in 5 years — then try to take it back, Nov. 30, 2015

CNN, Peres funeral: The handshake between Abbas and Netanyahu was a footnote, Sept. 30, 2016

Ynet News, Netanyahu and Abbas shake hands for first time in five years, Nov. 30, 2015

The Associated Press, Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat meeting update, Sept. 4, 1996

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Netanyahu mic moment seen in Instagram video misses context about COVID-19 pandemic

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