Bibi: The Turbulent Life And Times Of Benjamin Netanyahu, by Anshel Pfeffer
In this book one gets the sense that the author is showing respect to its subject almost in spite of himself. It is obvious that the author is no particular fan of Netanyahu as a man or as a politician, but at the same time there is a grudging respect shown here for a man whose success in the ruthless world of Israeli politics has been remarkable even if it runs counter to the sort of political worldview that the author would evidently wish to see triumph. And in reading this book it is easy to see that while the author thinks that Bibi is too paranoid and thinks of Bibi’s complex personality that includes both American as well as Israeli elements as chameleon-like, it makes sense to be paranoid when people are out to get you, and when one has had to spend a lot of one’s life between two countries and two cultures, it makes sense to be able to have a different face for wherever one happens to be. The author seems strangely unaware of the dynamics that drive Bibi to behave as he has, and this limits the book’s insight even if it is written with more sympathy than some accounts are.
This particular volume is about 400 pages long and is divided into 30 chapters and five parts. Beginning with a prologue that discusses Netanyahu’s Israel, this book begins with a look at the family background of Bibi’s father and grandfather as frustrated lovers of Zion (I), with chapters on Bibi’s grandfather (1), the issue of propaganda (2), Bibi’s father being on the sidelines of history (3), and the frustration of the Zionist dreams of Bibi’s father (4). After that the author discusses Bibi and his brothers as being outsiders in the new state of Israel (II), with chapters on a restricted life (5), the jolt of moving to the United States (6), Bibi’s bi-cultural outlook (7), his army experience (8), the experiences of him and his brother (9), and his desire to save the state as his brother died (10). The author then move to look at how Bibi broke into the elite (III) of Israel through his development of business acumen (11), the struggle he faced over not being in uniform (12), his successes in America (13), his ability to learn and grow a sense of humor (14), and his struggles to appear as prime minister material (15), while struggling with the nature of Israel’s politics (16), the threat of failure because of Oslo (17), his being blamed for Rabin’s assassination unjustly (18), and his successful campaign based on the slogan of being good for the Jews (19). The author then looks at his bungling in the political wilderness from 1996-2009 (IV) with a look at his hesitancy in office (20), his electoral defeat (21), his dealing with the fears of his people (22), his job as a concerned citizen in the political wilderness after Sharon’s success (23), his efforts to make himself his own media (24), and his use of threats to increase the turnout of his base (25). Finally, the author looks at the time Bibi has spent on the top as Prime Minister since 2009 (V), with chapters on Bibi’s pragmatism (26), the death of his father (27), fears of Arab voters supporting the opposition (28), his rivalry with Obama (29), and his refusal to admit wrongdoing and corruption (30), closing with an epilogue, acknowledgments, note on sources, notes, and index.
Is it such a bad thing to live a turbulent life? Netanyahu’s desire to be a figure of historical significance has been both helped and hurt by his own background as being on the periphery of Israeli’s elite and thus capable of both maneuvering Israel’s elite politics while also allowing him to gain the popularity of other outsiders like himself. And this outsider’s perspective made his first term as prime minister somewhat unsuccessful but also made it possible for him to develop a popularity with a core group of Israeli voters whose bleak worldview (a bleak worldview I happen to share, as it happens) gives him consistent support even in the face of massive hostility from leftist elite culture in the United States as well as abroad. The fact that Bibi can relate well with the contemporary conservative culture of the United States also speaks highly in his favor, at least to me as a reader. If this book is not quite as flattering towards Bibi as one would wish, it is written with enough respect that one can understand the basis of Netanyahu’s behavior as an Israeli leader and understand why it is that it is easier to support him than the various inferior competitors he has faced in the past few years.