The Resistible Rise of Ben­jamin Netanyahu

Neill Lochery
  • Review
By – November 11, 2016

The title of this polit­i­cal biog­ra­phy indi­cates its cen­tral premise – that the lead­er­ship of Israel’s ninth prime min­is­ter, Ben­jamin Netanyahu, could have been resist­ed or even avoid­ed entire­ly. This is a rather odd start­ing point for an his­to­ri­an to exam­ine the career of the country’s sec­ond-longest-serv­ing leader, but Neill Lochery demon­strates that Netanyahu’s lead­er­ship posi­tion has not been marked by his suc­cess­es, but rather by his sur­vival. Fur­ther­more, the author states that even as the country’s head, Netanyahu is more attuned to an Amer­i­can lifestyle than an Israeli one, mak­ing him at once the pub­lic face of Israel and an out­sider in his own coun­try. Dur­ing his polit­i­cal career he has been a polar­iz­ing fig­ure at home and abroad.

Nonethe­less, Lochery con­cludes, whether due to a lack of cred­i­ble alter­na­tives or to his own polit­i­cal prag­ma­tism, Netanyahu remains the leader that the Israeli elec­torate feels is their best choice — after all, they have elect­ed him four times.

Since this is an exam­i­na­tion of a polit­i­cal career, Lochery con­cen­trates on the years from 1991 to today, between which Netanyahu was elect­ed Likud leader in 1993 and prime min­is­ter in 1996. There are some ref­er­ences to the past — most notably the influ­ence of Netanyahu’s father, Ben­zion, a Jew­ish his­to­ry schol­ar and Revi­sion­ist Zion­ist; and to the death of Netanyahu’s old­er broth­er, Yoni, dur­ing the 1976 Entebbe raid. Spec­u­la­tions about the effects of Netanyahu’s father and broth­er on his poli­cies, out­look, and actions are cer­tain­ly valid in attempt­ing to cre­ate what Lochery calls a clear pic­ture on this com­plex man,” yet in the end they remain just that — speculations.

By neces­si­ty, Lochery’s clear pic­ture” also includes a his­to­ry of con­tem­po­rary events as they relat­ed to Netanyahu, and he to them. Dur­ing the 1980s Netanyahu mixed diplo­ma­cy and pol­i­tics. Then he came to inter­na­tion­al atten­tion in 1991 dur­ing the Per­sian Gulf War; wear­ing a gas mask dur­ing a tele­vi­sion inter­view, offer­ing view­ers both real­i­ty and the­atrics. Flu­ent in Amer­i­can Eng­lish after years in the Unit­ed States and hold­ing degrees from MIT, Netanyahu quick­ly became Israel’s tele­vi­sion spokesperson.

Netanyahu was again promi­nent lat­er in 1991 when Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Shamir tapped him to attend the Madrid Peace Con­fer­ence, leav­ing For­eign Min­is­ter (and Netanyahu rival) David Levy at home. Due at least in part to tele­vi­sion, his polit­i­cal star was ris­ing. But that star could — and did — crash and burn. Netanyahu, though, suc­ceed­ed in ris­ing from the ashes.

The 1990s were momen­tous years of cru­cial his­tor­i­cal events includ­ing the Oslo Accords, the assas­si­na­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin, sui­cide bomb­ings, Netanyahu’s elec­tion, pres­sures from Wash­ing­ton, inves­ti­ga­tions into pos­si­ble cor­rup­tion, land trades and set­tle­ment-build­ing, and the Wye Mem­o­ran­dum. Although Netanyahu was defeat­ed in the 1999 elec­tion by Ehud Barak, he would even­tu­al­ly over­come this blow as well.

So what makes Bibi run? Neill Lochery, Pro­fes­sor of Mid­dle East­ern and Mediter­ranean Stud­ies at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don and the author of nine books, has spent a good part of 25 years research­ing and writ­ing about Netanyahu’s career. In his view, that career, like the sto­ry of Israel, has been one of sur­vival. As for the man him­self? That’s anoth­er story.

Relat­ed Content:

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

Discussion Questions