Bibi’s memories and victories

In his new autobiography, Israel’s newly reelected prime minister looks back on his extraordinary career.

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at party headquarters in Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2022. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at party headquarters in Jerusalem, Nov. 2, 2022. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Jerold S. Auerbach
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel (1896-2016) and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book for 2019.”

It is not surprising that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has written a lengthy memoir (654 pages). Bibi, published just as Netanyahu was elected to serve yet another term, is a fascinating—if occasionally tediously detailed—recounting of his remarkable political career.

Netanyahu identifies his “life’s mission” as “to help secure the future of my ancient people who suffered so much and have contributed so much to humanity.” The rebirth of Israel, after millennia during which Jews wandered in the wilderness of dependence upon other nations for their survival, is indeed a miracle of history. Netanyahu fits his life story into that narrative.

For five years after Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War (1967), Netanyahu served as an officer in Sayeret Matkal, the elite special forces unit of the IDF. Relocating to the United States, he graduated from MIT and became Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. Returning to Israel, he was elected to the Knesset in 1988, launching his remarkable political career.

Along the way, there was tragedy as well as triumph. Netanyahu’s beloved older brother Yoni, who had preceded him as an officer in Sayeret Matkal, was murdered in 1976 during the rescue of Israeli hostages held captive by terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Netanyahu evocatively describes feeling “like a man on a rack whose limbs are torn from him one by one.”

Netanyahu was unrelenting in his ambition and success. In 1996 he defeated Shimon Peres to become Israel’s youngest-ever prime minister. Ever since, he has been on a political rollercoaster. He served as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance before returning as prime minister in 2009, a position he held until 2021 and will now occupy again.

Among the most interesting parts of Netanyahu’s autobiography is the description of his strained relationship with former President Barack Obama, indisputably America’s least Israel-friendly president. Early on, Netanyahu realized that he was “heading into an inevitable confrontation with Israel’s most important ally.” Obama’s “espousal of the Palestinian narrative”—that Israeli Jews are “neo-colonials usurping the land from native Arab inhabitants”—framed their difficult relationship.

Obama seemed determined to “steamroll” Netanyahu into accepting a Palestinian state on the precarious pre-1967 borders that enclosed Israel before it regained biblical Judea and Samaria in the Six-Day War. The president’s insistence on a settlement freeze and two-state solution became an enduring source of contention between them, while Obama’s linkage of the suffering of Palestinians to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust was, to Netanyahu (and countless others), “outlandish”—if not appalling.

Netanyahu understood that “being a moral people won’t save you from conquest and carnage, which was the history of the Jewish people for two thousand years.” Zionism, he writes, meant “giving the Jewish people the power to defend themselves,” which “was the central mission of my years in office.”

Bibi’s preening occasionally overflows, as when he writes that “Israel’s international standing was boosted by the fact that I was repeatedly ranked by Forbes magazine among the most powerful people in the world.” Or when he lists by name the 19 countries he visited to open new economic and political opportunities for Israel.

Unlike Bibi’s strained relationship with Obama, his rapport with President Donald Trump resulted in significant benefits for Israel. They included American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the legality of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. Normalization agreements with Arab countries (known as the Abraham Accords) effectively ended the Palestinian “veto” over Israel-Arab relations.

Netanyahu’s narrative ends in 2020, but having now returned as prime minister, an even longer updated edition of his book is assured. It will surely provide him with a renewed opportunity to bolster his unrivaled stature in Israeli history.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of twelve books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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