Weekend Read – Bibi: His Story thumbnail

Weekend Read – Bibi: His Story

By Neland Nobel

Editors’ Note: Netanyahu is right now in the process of forming a new government.

Bibi, of course, is Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving Premier in Israel’s history.

This almost 700-page volume (Bibi: My Story) covers his incredible career as well as many interesting historic takes on Israel, foreign policy, US relations, US political figures, and the history of his remarkable family.  If you have an interest in history and current affairs, it is a must-read.

Born in 1949, Bibi grew up in both Israel and America.

His father was a noted historian and a specialist in the Spanish Inquisition. He was an early Zionist working on the founding of the state of Israel.

Zionism had a dominant socialist streak in it, but the Netanyahu family came from the more conservative minority Jabotinsky wing.  This was reflected early in the divide among the armed revolutionaries with the socialists largely in the Haganah and the conservatives in the Irgun.

Despite the early leadership being mostly from the socialist wing, Bibi’s father was selected to go to the United States to help form public opinion.  The senior Netanyahu felt America, not Britain, was the rising power, and hence public opinion in the US must be altered before politicians would pay attention.

Initially, he could not get much attention from the dominant Democrat Party in the US because both the WASP-dominated State Department and the Roosevelt Administration were opposed to an independent Israel.  They feigned concern about Britain’s declining empire and influence in the mid-east while at the same time pressuring Britain to give up her empire elsewhere.

Here, the book cuts some new historic ground most will not be familiar with.  The consensus view (especially among liberal American Jews), was that support for Israel was largely the creation of Democrats, especially Harry Truman.  That is not quite what happened.

Zionists early on felt that to get US support, it had to be a bipartisan effort.  After being rebuffed by Democrats, they approached Republicans and found an ally in the rising conservative leader of the party, Senator Robert Taft from Ohio.  Thus, the first public declaration in support of an independent Israel is to be found in the 1944 Republican Party platform.  The Democrats followed later.  It is true Harry Truman, who read his Bible seriously, did support the founding of Israel against the advice of the State Department, but Republican support came earlier and was just as necessary.

Bibi spent a good deal of his youth and high school days around Philadelphia.  He was both a jock and a nerd.  While excelling at soccer, he also graduated in the top 1% of his class.

At age 18, he went back to Israel for military service while his father maintained his professorship in a few American colleges.  Bibi had been accepted at Yale, but military duty came first.

He came back to the US to finish college after military service but switched from Yale to MIT.

In the military, he became a commander in “The Unit”, or Israeli Special Forces.  His older brother Yoni, who he admires greatly, did so as well.

Bibi was wounded during a raid to rescue hostages taken on a Belgian airliner, and his older brother Yoni was killed during the dramatic raid to rescue hostages taken to Entebbe, in Uganda.

Therefore, it is clear that love of God, family, and country was not a slogan for Bibi, it was his life. He put that life at risk multiple times, conducting dozens of special operations against terrorists.

He knows terrorism, upfront and personally.  For him, this is not a theory, but literally a question of life or death.  Such encounters tend to focus the mind, and you get a sense early on, that this is a serious man.  It would prepare him for things to come as he later would clash with both Israeli and American politicians.

The book covers a very interesting history of the War in 1956, the stunning victories in 1967, and the almost fatal Yom Kippur War in 1973.  Much of this has to do not only with Israeli politics but the off and on again relations with the US through successive administrations.  In the coverage of Israeli politics, one finds so many striking parallels with what has gone on in the US.  One theme that dominates Bibi’s 40-year-plus career is the unstinting bias and animus against conservatives in the Israeli press.  The other is the political theatre constantly pulled by the Left, which echoes similar movements in the US.

In 1973, it became clear that Arab forces were going to attack, but Golda Meir and the Labor Party felt that unlike in 1967, they would not make a pre-emptive strike.  They felt that if Israel were to act that way again, they would lose support in the US and the UN.  That bet to please world public opinion came within a hair of losing the nation and plunging the Jewish people into annihilation. Once again, he served, this time in the 1973 War.

After the war, the Likud Party was formed to avoid Labor’s romantic visions again destroying the country and Bibi began to rise within its ranks.  He came back to the US to serve as Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, won a seat in the Knesset (parliament) in 1988, and later became Deputy Foreign Minister.

He became Prime Minister and served from 1996-1999.

The parallels are eerie to American politics in Netanyahu’s two terms as Premier, even down to the granular detail of having his personal residence invaded by police, the intelligence services being turned against him,  success at building a large security fence, dealing with an invasion of migrants, endless investigations and harassment, all the way to the poor treatment of his wife by the Israeli press. Then there was the ugly smear that critics of the Olso Accords and Rabin (Bibi and Likud) were guilty of creating an “atmosphere of hate” that led to Rabin’s unfortunate assassination. It is almost as if the future attacks on Donald Trump were first modeled by the Israeli Left and subsequently adopted by Democrats. 

That Netanyahu could prevail against these same forces that plague American conservatives is a story worth studying by conservative political leaders in the US.  Reading this, you realize how brutal the politics are in Israel compared even to the US, especially since they have a parliamentary system, with multiple quarreling political parties that can bring down a government at any time.

But as you read the book one thing comes through: despite all the attacks, Netanyahu got big things done for his country.

A rival of Ariel Sharon, he was brought into the Likud government and served in what arguably would be his most important post, that of Finance Minister.  With the help of Israeli and the US Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, he painfully started the conversion of Israel from a socialist, labor union-dominated, monopoly-prone welfare state to a free market economic powerhouse.

Later in his second term as Premier starting in 2009, he completed many other economic reforms.  One, in particular, was making Israel a leader in cyber security.

A tiny, new, water-starved nation, besieged and threatened on all sides, plagued by terrorism, became a “start-up nation”, a high-tech mecca that now has per capita income higher than France and the UK.

His economic reforms have proven a great success.  However, the struggle for security and with US liberals continues to this day.

Many US leaders always seem to look at the Middle East as a real estate deal gone bad.  All problems are based on the centrality of the “Palestinian”-Israeli conflict that can only be solved by Israel making land concessions eventually creating a “Palestinian state”.

Netanyahu sees it rather as a conflict between Western values and radical Islam.  He suggests there is no use negotiating with terrorists that don’t even recognize your right to exist. Moreover, it is hard to argue, that attempts by Iranians to assassinate Saudi leaders, civil war in Iraq, civil war in  Syria, or Muslims killing Christians in Africa, have anything to do with the presence of a tiny Jewish country.  Nor could it have much to do with the Pakistani and Indian conflict or the tragic history of Afghanistan.

The problems that lie within Islam are what plague peace in the Middle East, not Israel’s existence.

In and out of power, Bibi came back and served from 2009-2021, thus his combined terms make him the longest-serving Premier in Israel’s history. This long period of leadership allows the reader to see Bill Clinton,  H.W. Bush, George Bush, Barak Obama, and Donald Trump conducting their respective foreign policies, and their individual temperaments.

Clinton and Obama directly involved themselves in the Israeli elections.  This included funding the opposition and the dispatch of personal campaign staff to directly defeat Likud and Bibi.  Understanding this, the constant bleating by some US politicians about “foreign interference” pales in comparison to what they actually did during the Israeli elections.

The most hostile, was Barak Obama, who fully engaged the theory that it was the mere presence of Israel and its real estate, that was causing the problem.  He viewed Israelis as “colonizers”, pushing indigenous Arabs aside. He never understood the Jews were there first, thousands of years before Mohammad was born. He pushed hard to earn his Nobel Peace Prize by advocating “not one brick”, or no new construction of settlements.  This was true, especially in Jerusalem.

Bibi would say this is not a “territory”, this is our capitol and holy city to Jews.  What would the US think if some foreign power dictated what could, or not be built, in Washington, D.C?

Obama believed these building restrictions would bring Hamas, Fatah, and other terrorists to the peace table?  But as in the past, more concessions on land brought more terror and more demands. Obama’s arrogance and ignorance were astounding.   At one meeting, Obama dresses down Bibi and suggests that Israel should not cross him. Why?  Because Obama had dealt with tough street gangs in Chicago in his function as a “community organizer”.  Imagine talking that way to the longest-serving elected official in Israel, a war hero, who personally has had to kill terrorists.  Reading some of this, just makes your blood boil.

American officials, always eager for good press, forget about the cost because they did not feel it.  For example, in the second Intifada, Israel lost over 1,000 civilians to terror.  Another 8,000 or so were injured. Buses were blown up, pizza parlors shot up, and weddings gunned down. If the US had lost equivalent numbers adjusted for population, in that one period we would have lost about 37,000 people, compared to the 3,000 or so on 9/11, which set our nation up for a 20-year war.  Yet, Israel was often criticized for striking back after taking large losses to terrorism.

However, holding bipartisan support for Israel had to come first, and Bibi had to bite his tongue. But Obama’s plans to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons went beyond what could be tolerated. Bibi felt Israel could survive the terror, but not a nuclear Iran. Invited by the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, Netanyahu gave one of the most stirring speeches ever delivered by a foreign dignitary to Congress.  He said it was better to have no deal with Iran, rather than the bad deal being pushed by Obama.  It moved public opinion and Obama never could submit his proposal as a treaty.

Fifty Democrats refused to attend the speech, Nancy Pelosi turned her back, and Joe Biden arranged an absence.  But as you can see, it struck a chord with most in Congress.  If you don’t remember this speech, it is presented below and is worth your time.  It gives you a measure of the man.

Of course, Iran and its nuclear development is once again a matter of top priority.

Bibi had much better relations with Donald Trump.  Both felt that Israel was not “causing” middle eastern strife, but rather strife among nations in the middle east was causing the Arab/Israeli problem.  Hence the substantially different approach of the Abraham Accords, and new treaties of cooperation between Arab countries and Israel, with or without the Palestinian radicals.

Many now feel Iran is a greater threat to them and seek an alliance with Israel against the Iranian threat.

There is so much in the book about the history of the region, the truly nasty nature of Israeli politics, and the relationship between America and Israel, that it is hard to summarize.  What does come out quite clearly is that Benjamin Natanhayu is one remarkable man and a tremendous leader.  Now in another crisis with the US and Iran, he may be just about to come back again in a time of turmoil, to lead his nation once again.