The Netanyahu Years

By Terrill, W. Andrew | Parameters, Autumn 2017 | Go to article overview

The Netanyahu Years


Terrill, W. Andrew, Parameters


The Netanyahu Years

By Ben Caspit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is currently struggling to address several scandals of various seriousness, including one which led to the arrest of his former chief of staff on corruption charges. These problems could potentially emerge as a threat to Netanyahu remaining in office, but his personality is always to fight to the last and never give up. Even if the attorney general indicts him, Israeli law does not require him to resign unless he is convicted of a criminal offense. Moreover, no matter how serious his problems become, Bibi has consistentiy proven himself to be not only a survivor, but also Israel's most brilliant contemporary politician. Understanding Netanyahu's politics and policies is therefore vital to understanding Israel, and providing such knowledge is the purpose of Israeli journalist Ben Caspit's excellent but often unsympathetic new volume on the prime minister.

Netanyahu grew up in a politically conservative family moving between Israel and the United States. Bibi's father, a dedicated scholar of Jewish history, accepted a position in the United States due his difficulty finding a position in Israel's mostly liberal academia. Consequently, much of Bibi's early education occurred in the Philadelphia suburbs, where, he learned to speak perfect English. After graduating from high school, Netanyahu returned to Israel and joined the elite Sayeret Matkal commandos and participated in a variety of dangerous combat operations. Later, he moved back to the United States and graduated with honors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After various forays into business in the United States, Netanyahu became a public affairs attache and spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington. Bibi performed superbly in this position due to his media friendly personality, and he was later promoted to become Israel's ambassador to the United Nations. In New York, he again served as an outstanding Israeli spokesman and perhaps more importantly became a fundraising genius, able to charm a wide network of friendly Jewish millionaires and billionaires interested in contributing to projects in Israel.

After service at the United Nations, Netanyahu returned to Israel becoming a Likud party leader, where his American-style media and political talents, "were light years ahead of those of his rivals" (130). After serving in a variety of important posts including deputy foreign minister, Bibi was elected prime minister in 1996. Unfortunately for Netanyahu's ambitions, he was much better at campaigning than governing, and his tenure lasted only until 1999 when Labor leader Ehud Barak defeated him by a large margin. In the aftermath of the defeat, Ariel Sharon replaced Bibi as head of the Likud. Netanyahu briefly became Sharon's foreign minister and then finance minister after Likud won the January 2003 election. He eventually led Likud in opposition when Sharon left to form his own very successful political party, Kadima.

Netanyahu again became Prime Minister following the 2009 election. According to Caspit, he entered office with three main political goals beyond strengthening his hold on power. …

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