Richard Friedman: New Bibi Book Probes Complex Prime Minister

     New Book On Netanyahu Provides Valuable Insight, Deeper Understanding
    By Richard Friedman,
    BJF Executive Director 

    On July 17, 2019,  if he’s still in power, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu will become Israel’s longest serving prime minister, surpassing the tenure of the country’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. On that day, Netanyahu will have served 13 years, or for 18 percent of Israel’s history. In US terms, that would be like a president serving 43 years.

    Just as Israel is complex, Netanyahu is complex. Born in 1949, a year after Israel’s rebirth as a modern country, his life has paralleled the life of the state.

    The sheer impact of Netanyahu’s longevity as prime minister, which encompasses serving from 1996 to 1999 and then from 2009 to the present, has already made him one of the most significant figures in Israeli history. He’s also one of the most controversial and one of the most polarizing.

    Controversy and polarization are two of the themes that course through a new biography of Netanyahu titled  “Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.” It’s by journalist Anshel Pfeffer, who writes for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

    Pfeffer’s biography of Netanyahu is not the most flattering portrayal and one could argue that it’s unfair at times. However,  the book is full of valuable information and history and does help explain the long-time prime minister’s fears, ideology and tactics — and why his government makes the choices it makes.

    LASTING IMPACT 

    When viewed fairly, Netanyahu’s achievements are significant and will leave a lasting impact.

    Israel is stronger than ever; it’s a world leader in crucial fields such as technology, medicine, agriculture and water; the US-Israel relationship is at an all-time high right now; Israel’s economy is strong; new diplomatic opportunities have opened up with Asia, Africa and key Arab countries; the country’s military is powerful, and Netanyahu helped motivate the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal which the Israeli prime minister saw as flawed and dangerous.

    With that said, there are still issues to be resolved, some of which Pfeffer delves into,
    such as the corruption investigations of  Netanyahu and his wife Sara; the need for
    the prime minister to do more  to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations, and  the tension in Israeli society stemming from Netanyahu’s unbridled nationalism.

    Given the nature of the country, its ethnic and religious make up, its security challenges, and the messiness of its animated democracy, it is likely that Israel always will be complicated and frequently controversial. In fact, this is a good way of thinking about Netanyahu, something that the author highlights in his book: this is a powerful prime minister who probably always will be complicated and controversial, and also — according to Pfeffer’s portrayal — ruthless, condescending and manipulative.

    Yet, one could argue that when viewed objectively the scope and impact of Netanyahu’s achievements and Israel’s successes during his current tenure  are nothing short of remarkable.   Remembering them, in spite of all the turbulence surrounding the life and times of Benjamin Netanyahu, continues to be a challenge — for both his critics and admirers.

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