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BIBI: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu
By: PFEFFER, Anshel
For many in Israel and elsewhere, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an embarrassment, a threat to democracy, even a precursor to Donald Trump. Yet despite repeated scandals and missteps, he continues to dominate Israeli public life. How are we to account his rise, his hold on Israeli politics, and his outsized role on the world’s stage?
In Bibi, the Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer argues that we must understand Netanyahu as representing the triumph of the underdogs in the Zionist enterprise. Born in 1949, one year after the state of Israel itself, Netanyahu came of age in a nation dominated by liberal, secular Zionists in the tradition of David Ben-Gurion. Yet from the start Netanyahu identified with the groups at the margins of Israeli society: the right-wing Revisionists, the orthodox, the Mizrahi Jews, the small-time professionals living in the new towns and cities dotting the Israeli landscape. With a vision integrating Jewish nationalism and religious traditionalism, Netanyahu cultivated each faction individually and then fused them into an often unstoppable coalition.
At the same time, Netanyahu is a child of America, where he spent many years as a young man, and where he learned the techniques of modern political campaigns as well as the necessity of controlling the media cycle. The product of the affluent East Coast Jewish community and the Reagan era, Netanyahu’s politics and worldview were formed as much by American Cold War conservatism as by his family’s hardline right-wing Zionism.
As Pfeffer demonstrates in this penetrating biography, Netanyahu’s Israel is a hybrid of ancient phobia and high-tech hope, tribalism and globalism—just like the man himself.
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