What Drives Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Polarising And Authoritarian Prime Minister?

What Drives Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Polarising And Authoritarian Prime Minister?

‘Bibi’, Anshel Pfeffer’s biography of Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is an insightful examination of the most dominant figure in recent Israeli political history.

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is among the most influential, controversial, and divisive modern political leaders. Currently holding the longest continuous term of any Israeli Prime Minister, he is due to overtake David Ben Gurion as the longest serving Prime Minister if he remains in office until the end of his current term. By any measure, Benjamin Netanyahu is the consummate political survivor. The most recent years of his presidency have seen years of clashes with President Obama, his failure to prevent the enactment of the Iran Deal, Operation Protective Edge, domestic corruption scandals, and Israel’s increasing involvement in the Syrian civil war. Anshel Pfeffer’s recent biography of Netanyahu, therefore, is both timely and much-welcomed.

As much as it is a personal history of Israel’s current Prime Minister, Pfeffer’s book is also a modern history of Israel and Zionism, tracked through the progress of the revisionist Zionist movements. This makes for a fascinating alternative historiographical account of modern Israeli history, which is usually written from the perspectives of more mainstream and centrist Zionists. While it may appear to gloss over major events in Israeli history, this is primarily because these events are being written about and analysed incidentally to revisionist Zionism, rather than in and of their right.

The picture Pfeffer paints of both Bibi and the Netanyahu family is a fascinating one, full of contradictions and paradoxes. Despite having grown up as part of Israeli society’s most privileged elite, the Netanyahu family, and Bibi, have always most strongly identified with its peripheral figures and marginalised citizens. Bibi despises much of the Jewish diaspora, especially those who criticise Israel from afar, despite spending many of his formative years and early adulthood in the United States. Although he is the leader of the centre-right Likud party, which has traditionally represented Israel’s liberal conservatives, Bibi has also demonstrated alarmingly authoritarian tendencies, particularly in relation to his attempts at dismantling the checks and balances on executive power. This is no hagiography, but Pfeffer maintains a level of balance throughout which, despite his personal political biases, felt like a fair biography.

Overall, this book was written well and offers many useful insights into the prime ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu. Pfeffer is a long-time Haaretz columnist and Israeli correspondent for The Economist (arguably the gold standard of writing in the English-language press) and has undertaken an excellently researched project in writing this book. If you have a keen interest in Israeli politics and seek a greater understanding of what motivates Prime Minister Netanyahu, then this is probably one of the best books available on the subject.

Writer with interests are Middle Eastern, US, and British politics.

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