An unsparing examination of the Israeli prime minister’s rise to power.
Journalist Pfeffer, Israeli correspondent for the Economist and senior correspondent for Haaretz, makes his literary debut with a biting portrait of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu (b. 1949), an ambitious politician whose racist, right-wing views have shaped “a deeply fractured Israeli society, living behind walls.” The son of historian Benzion Netanyahu and brother of fallen soldier Jonathan, Bibi embraced the “family mythology” that “constantly tried to place itself at the center of the Zionist narrative.” The author stresses the importance of Bibi’s American experience, which began in high school, when his father took an academic position in Pennsylvania. Although disdaining “the liberal-leaning, Democrat-voting American Jews” he met, he appreciated American capitalism and the style of American political campaigns. In 1981, as deputy chief of mission at Israel’s Washington embassy, Netanyahu set out to become a media personality. “Ever a perfectionist,” Pfeffer writes, “he worked assiduously on his televisual skills, taking lessons from professional coaches” and rehearsing his delivery “of terse and soundbite-heavy sentences.” Three years later, he was appointed ambassador to the U.N., where he “became a star of the air waves.” In 1996, with no political experience, he won a slim victory over Shimon Peres by inflaming Israel’s fear of its Arab neighbors. Besides coveting power, Netanyahu acquired a taste for luxury, extravagances that led to financial scandals later in his career. As he examines his subject’s fraught relationships with Israeli politicians and U.S. presidents, Pfeffer portrays Bibi as an arrogant, polarizing figure, incapable of compromise and, like Donald Trump, “lacking in introspection.” Netanyahu has never wavered in his bleak view of history, in which the Jewish homeland was threatened by “the genocidal urge of the Arab nations to destroy the Jewish presence.” He opposed any move to relinquish control of the West Bank and Golan Heights, conceding only “limited autonomy” to Palestinians living in those areas.
A perceptive history of a beleaguered nation and one deeply flawed leader.