Israeli journalist Ben Caspit, senior columnist for Ma’ariv, Israel’s leading daily, has produced a masterful political biography of Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Caspit’s book, which has been smoothly translated from Hebrew, traces the remarkable history of this singularly relentless and enigmatic, but flawed, politician — one who sees himself in the mold of Winston Churchill.
Born in Israel but raised in the United States and educated at MIT and Harvard, Netanyahu is clearly brilliant and driven. But, as Caspit reveals, he also carries the heavy baggage of his family history and, in particular, the expectations of his demanding father. Caspit discusses Bibi’s doctrinaire and dour, scholarly father who was inculcated in the Revisionist Zionist ideology. His uncompromising attitude toward Palestinians formed the backbone of Bibi’s views.
Caspit also sensitively emphasizes Netanyahu’s devotion to his older brother, Yoni, a dominant presence in his life, particularly after he was tragically killed during the Entebbe Operation in 1976. In many ways, Bibi has tried to live up to the legacy of his fallen brother and to fulfill his father’s expectations. This helps explain, according to Caspit, his flawed and narcissistic personality.
Caspit details how Bibi’s postgraduate experiences, through which he honed his English skills and introduced him to American politics, were critical. His introduction to Republican politicians and neoconservative circles, and to wealthy Jewish donors and patrons were especially important, as they would form the base of support for this rising star. Bibi became the darling of the American Jewish establishment, and gradually worked his way into the Israeli Embassy, the United Nations (as Israeli ambassador) and eventually to head the Likud Party. He went on to be elected Prime Minister four times: in 1996, 2006, 2013 and 2015, matching Ben Gurion’s record.
In Caspit’s view, Netanyahu has almost a messianic self-conception, nurtured by his family and close associates. He sees himself as the guardian of the security of the Jewish people. When Caspit ventures into areas of Netanyahu’s psychological profile suggesting, for example, that both Bibi and his wife, Sara, have tendencies of psychopathy, she the controller and he the controlled, the analysis is less successful.