The Netanyahu Years

Ben Caspit; Ora Cum­mings, trans.
  • Review
By – September 14, 2017

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.

Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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