The Man Who Embodies Israel:  Book Review of Bibi:  My Story

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Bibi:  My Story
by Benjamin Netanyahu
Simon & Schuster
October 2022
753 pages


Bibi is the autobiography of Benjamin Netanyahu. And Bibi is the story of a remarkable man – a combat veteran, businessman, diplomat, politician, author, and finance minister as well as three-time prime minister of Israel. In fact, he is the current prime minister of Israel and is the prime minister with the longest tenure in Israeli history. Few leaders in the past century have been such formative figures in the development and leadership of their country.

Nicknamed Bibi in his youth, Netanyahu has been a public figure ever since he served as the deputy to the Israeli ambassador to the United States at the age of 33. A conservative politician, he is greatly admired in Israel and in the United States as the person who perhaps more than any other leader has helped secure the life of the Jewish state and its future. He is also reviled by many “progressive” and left-leaning citizens of Israel and their counterparts in America.

Netanyahu was born in Israel into a prominent family in 1949, shortly after Israel became independent. His father was a historian, who was the editor of the popular Encyclopedia Hebraica, which he modeled after the Encyclopedia Britannica. The success of this publication allowed the family to live a comfortable life and travel extensively. Both parents came from Zionist families. His father was an influential figure in the creation of the Israeli state.

As a young man, his father was a leader in a group of Revisionist Zionists who traveled to America in 1940. Their goal was to plant the seeds of an independent Jewish nation at the conclusion of World War II. They were successful in getting both the Republican and Democratic parties in the 1944 presidential election to adopt platforms calling for unlimited Jewish emigration to Israel and the creation of a Jewish state. Netanyahu’s father later met with acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson and General Dwight Eisenhower to persuade them to back the creation of an independent Israel that could help prevent the Soviets from controlling the Mideast. It can be said that much of Netanyahu’s early rise and success in Israeli politics can be attributed to his father, in much the same way as Jack Kennedy’s and his brothers’ political achievements would not have been possible without their father’s influence and guidance.

Before attending university, Netanyahu was inducted into the State of Israel’s famed Sayeret Matkal, an elite special forces unit based on Britain’s legendary SAS. Both Netanyahu’s older brother Yoni and his younger brother Iddo served in this outfit as well. Yoni, whom Bibi admired and emulated, was killed leading the famous Israeli raid in 1976 that rescued 248 airline passengers, who had been hijacked by PLO and German terrorists and flown to Uganda.

In Bibi’s early training as an enlisted man, he parachuted 15 times. In the years following the Israeli victory in the Six Day War in 1967, his unit was in combat on various fronts, and on one such occasion, Netanyahu came close to drowning during a firefight with Egyptian forces on the Suez Canal. Graduating from Officers Training School, Netanyahu led units in combat along the borders of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. He served in the military until 1972 when, at age 23, he returned to America to enroll at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Before coming to MIT, Netanyahu had already lived in the United States on several occasions. When he was little, his family moved to New York City for a time, where Netanyahu learned English and went to elementary school. Later Netanyahu and his family lived in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, not far from where the author of this review grew up. Netanyahu was a self-described “nerd” who read omnivorously. He went to Cheltenham High School (where Reggie Jackson went) and graduated in 1967 in the top 1 percent of his class of 550 students; he was one of five students who was chosen for honors classes in four subjects. He applied to several Ivy League schools, but Yale was the only university prepared to admit him after his compulsory three years’ service in the Israeli military.

Enrolling at MIT rather than Yale, Netanyahu was older and much more focused than his undergraduate classmates, and he crammed four undergraduate years into two years. A year after he enrolled, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 took place, and he flew back to Israel and was engaged in combat operations in the Sinai and on the Syrian front. Back in Cambridge at MIT at the war’s end, Netanyahu became a volunteer in an Israeli Student Organization, which worked closely with the Israeli consular office in Boston, giving lectures defending Israel in the midst of the Arab oil boycott. He recounts in the book how this was his baptismal fire in speaking before skeptical audiences. It was during these years that his father taught him that in today’s world, you can’t defend a military victory without a political victory; you can’t defend a political victory without a victory in public opinion, and you can’t win public opinion without an appeal to justice — lessons that he has used throughout his political career. Bibi notes, for example, that in the Six-Day War in 1967, Judea, Samaria, and the Sinai were already in Arab hands. There were no “occupied territories” to liberate when the Palestine Liberation Organization was established. “Its goal was to annihilate Israel, pure and simple,” he writes That goal continues to be the sworn policy of the Palestine Authority, Hamas, and Iran today. Throughout his career, Bibi has empathized that true justice was allowing Jews to build their homeland where they first settled 3,500 years ago.

After graduating, Bibi decided to go to business school. He was accepted at the Sloan School of Management at MIT and received a master’s in business administration two years later. Then he joined the Boston Consulting Group in 1976, working there for two years. This was followed by a two-year tour as marketing director for a large Israeli company, splitting his time between Israel and Boston, where his second wife, Fleur Cates, was working for Bain & Company. Netanyahu’s business degree and short stint in business proved to be enormously valuable for him, when he later served twice as Israeli finance minister.

Netanyahu went to Washington, where made his mark as the deputy Israeli ambassador to the United States. He got to know many of the key U.S. politicians, public policy figures, and leading members of the media. Based on his ability to tell Israel’s story persuasively, Netanyahu was then chosen to become Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations at the age of 35, holding the position from 1984 to 1988. He did an outstanding job defending Israel from the constant slanderous attacks by Arab countries and their fellow travelers.

In 1988, Netanyahu returned to Israel to run for a seat in the 120-member Knesset (the country’s parliament), as a member of the conservative Likud Party. He was elected to the Knesset and served as deputy foreign minister for several years. Then in 1993, he was elected chairman of Likud, and thus, the leader of the opposition. In 1996, he defeated Shimon Peres in the country’s first ever election determined directly by popular vote – and, at age 46, the youngest Israeli prime minister ever. In doing so, he not only defeated the Israeli opposition parties but also President Bill Clinton’s political advisers and strategists. Clinton’s national security advisor, Sandy Berger, said later, “If there was ever a time that we tried to influence an Israeli election, it was Peres versus Netanyahu.” Nevertheless, not a peep was heard from the overwhelmingly left-leaning Israeli press nor its counterpart in the United States about a foreign nation seeking to influence the election of an ally.

During Netanyahu’s first term, one of his signature achievements was the beginning of the transformation of Israel from a socialist economy to a market-based economy. He posed the question: “How come there are many amazingly financially successful Israelis abroad but almost none in Israel?” His government privatized more than $4.5 billion in assets, as he followed Margaret Thatcher’s playbook of the 1980s. He also lifted all foreign currency controls in one fell swoop in 1997. Despite predictions of catastrophe by friend and foe alike, funds flowed into Israel, not out, and exchange controls have never been reimposed. He sought to remove barriers to trade and burdensome regulations as well as to reduce the power of the trade unions. In 1999, Netanyahu’s Likud party lost the general election, and Ehud Barak became prime minister.  After his defeat, Bibi decided to withdraw from politics and wait for a more propitious time to become politically involved again.

In Clinton’s last two years as president of the United States, one of his key goals was to accomplish a peace deal between Israel and the PLO, which he hoped would land him a Nobel Peace Prize. At Camp David in July 2000, Clinton met with Barak and Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO. Arafat’s PLO was offered 92 percent of Judea and Samaria as well as a Palestinian state, and part of Jerusalem would be its capital. Arafat turned the offer down. The PLO didn’t want Judea and Samaria and part of Jerusalem — they wanted the destruction of the State of Israel. Nothing more and nothing less.

After Bibi left office in 1999, he and his third wife, Sara, were subjected to several years of government investigations and interrogations, stemming from false accusations about their allegedly accepting gifts from both Israeli and foreign politicians and taking property from the prime minister’s residence. Nothing was ever proved in the so-called “Gifts Affair,” but the extent of the witch hunt, perpetrated by his ideological opponents and the media, as described in the book, are astonishing. If politics is a rough game in United States, it is nothing compared to Israel, where it is a blood sport.

When the Likud Party regained control in 2001 with Ariel Sharon at the new prime minister, Sharon asked Netanyahu to become finance minister. Israel’s finances were in terrible shape, and it was sure to be a thankless task involving the reduction of welfare payments, pension reform, delaying retirement age, and privatizing government-owned companies. The unions were expected to fight the reforms every step of the way and to declare a general strike. But Netanyahu accepted the job, and he and his team brought Israel from near bankruptcy into a robust market-based economy.

Israel’s economic progress under Netanyahu over the past decades has been remarkable. When he assumed the position of finance minister in 2003, Israel’s debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio was 102 percent – meaning the country owed more than it produced. It is now 61 percent. In 2009, Israel’s per capita Gross Domestic Product was 34th in the world; in 2019, it was 19th – higher than those of the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. Israel with less than 10 million people has a Gross Domestic Product larger than that in Iran, which has a population of 80 million people. Israel’s Gross Domestic Product is 25 percent of Russia’s, and Russia has 150 million people. Netanyahu unleashed the entrepreneurial talents and work ethic of the Israeli people and created an economic powerhouse. And, of course, this is the foundation of Israel’s military strength.

The prolonged and continuing confrontation between Israel and the Palestine Authority and Hamas, and the United States’s role in it, during the Bush and Obama administrations take up much of the book. For a majority of that period, Netanyahu was Israel’s prime minister. Israel’s fundamental approach to Palestine under his leadership was that “peace comes from economic and military power.” “Progressives” and left-leaning politicians thought and still believe that peace would bring about power. This approach translated into a policy that required Israel to give a stream of concessions to the Palestine Authority and Hamas, which would supposedly bring peace. But Bibi understood that the Palestine Authority and Hamas did not want concessions; they sought the annihilation of Israel. This continues to this day.

The Obama Administration constantly demanded concessions by the Israelis, and Netanyahu’s response was that concessions by Israel required reciprocity by its enemies. He also believed that terrorist acts against Israeli civilians should be met with immediate military reprisals against the perpetrators.

As Israel became stronger both economically and militarily during the 12-year period when he was prime minister between 2009 and 2021, Netanyahu saw that the biggest threat to Israel was, in fact, Iran. The Palestine Authority and Hamas posed a terrorist threat to individual Israelis; but Iran was an existential threat to Israel. And as the threat became ever more real, the Obama administration did everything possible to placate Iran. In his book, Netanyahu describes the various efforts Israel undertook during this period to minimize the threat from Iran, which makes fascinating reading.

During this period, a number of Sunni Arab nations also saw the threat that Shiite Iran posed to them. With the strong backing of the Trump Administration, peace treaties were signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco in the Abraham Accords in 2020. These four nations joined Egypt and Jordan, which had already made peace with Israel. This was one of Netanyahu’s signature achievements.

Netanyahu was elected again as Israeli prime minister in late December 2022. Israelis know in their hearts that they owe their very existence to this man. For his entire lifetime, starting as a combat soldier in 1967. Netanyahu has lived a life of purpose – to ensure the security and prosperity of a democratic Israel beset by enemies determined to annihilate it. He is one of the world’s greatest living statesmen.


Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $5.8 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut and Wellesley, Massachusetts. Read other articles by him here.


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