Bibi: The turbulent life and times of Benjamin Netanyahu
by Anshel Pfeffer
(Pfeffer, Bibi: The turbulent life and times of Benjamin Netanyahu, 2018)
By Priyanka Lohia
Student, Jindal School of Journalism and Communication
O.P. Jindal Global University, Haryana – India
The world knows Benjamin Netanyahu as the longest-running Prime Minister of Israel and a child of America who was brought up in a family of right-wing revisionists. A part of the world also knows him as the saviour of Jewish people. But in the book ‘Bibi: The turbulent life and times of Benjamin Netanyahu’ written by the “Haaretz” journalist- Anshel Pfeffer and named after what Netanyahu’s loved ones call him, it is better understood why and how Netanyahu’s political career progressed over time; mainly by hanging on a thin thread with miniscule elections cycles and multiple scandals involving him. Pfeffer has observed that a huge part of Bibi’s accession of power has come from his father- Benzion Netanyahu, an average academic and a right-wing revisionist; the education he received along with the experiences he had in America; and the demise of Yoni, his older brother, in the Entebbe raid of 1976. The Netanyahu family has had a long association with politics and yet, Benzoin Netanyahu never managed to become a significant figure in the revisionist movement, Yoni could never become a heroic martyr and Netanyahu too was not the most exceptional army officer.
Netanyahu has been described as a master of politics not only at home, but even abroad. He has managed to influence and control a strongly devoted American Jewish lobby, infamous but powerful right-wing leaders like Trump and Putin, and seduced a good number of Christian fanatics as well. Anshel Pfeffer also believes that Bibi’s influence will continue to live on even if his political career sees doomsday, hinting at the amount of power and influence Bibi has.
Netanyahu spent his early childhood years in a country that saw the domination of liberal and secular Zionists, but his grandfather and father, both being members of the Revisionist movement, left him with ideas of Zionism integrated with Jewish nationalism and religious traditionalism. Naturally, he began to identify with groups that existed at the margins of the society in Israel: groups like the right-wing Revisionists, orthodox Jews, and more. Netanyahu nurtured each group and later integrated them into a coalition. Therefore, Pfeffer believes that Netanyahu embodies Israel, a ‘hybrid society of ancient phobias and high-tech hope, a combination of tribalism and globalism.’[i]
Bibi has been criticised for being more American than Israeli for several years. And just as the famous Israeli author- Amos Elon said, Pfeffer quotes “ Netanyahu has an inability to become a part of the establishment”[ii], which is not only because of his American background but also because the disconnect between them and the people has been a trend among all founding fathers and their sons.
Haaretz, the liberal-sided publication Anshel Pfeffer worked as a columnist for, and Netanyahu have opposed each other’s ideologies and opinions. But despite that, Pfeffer has taken a fair stand on Bibi and his politics in this book. He hasn’t described Bibi as an ultra-orthodox sectarian leader but instead as someone who works in favour of his supporters- that are religious extremists and right-wing bullies, and then tactically garners their votes for electoral success. Anshel Pfeffer’s book is basically a summary of Modern Israel’s history with its central attention being on Bibi. The book focuses on a man that is complicated, educated, and clever and despite having a background of quality education, Bibi remains a man of unbending principle who continues to follow ideologies and beliefs that are outdated and have the least practicality. Pfeffer has explained in this book how Netanyahu was and continues to be an extremely powerful man who can discard anyone trying to question his authority. His power has reached a level that so many Israelis believe that there may be no one to replace their Bibi. In the book, Netanyahu comes across as a paranoid leader who won’t be ready to be a team player if he isn’t made the team captain. And also, as someone who is power and money-hungry. Along with his third wife, Sara, Pfeffer stresses on the couple’s attraction towards material comforts and the “high life”. But of course, the author also predicted that this hunger and Netanyahu’s politics will land him in trouble.
This book has to be one of my most interesting reads, solely because of the fresh insight I got into Netanyahu’s life and how he became who he is today. It is very hard to be objective when it comes to controversial yet significant figures like Benjamin Netanyahu. But despite that, Anshel Pfeffer managed to do a wonderful job in concealing his personal opinions (even though he comes from a more liberal school of thought and works for an organisation that is strictly anti-Bibi) and not letting them get in the way of providing his readers a chance to make up their own mind about Bibi. Bibi, who has always been hostile towards left-wing media, in fact, complained that the biography Pfeffer was coming up with at the time would be a “cartoon.” But in reality, it isn’t: It is real and raw and goes deep into exploring the complex familial and philosophical foundations that Netanyahu set for himself.
“Israel turns seventy in 2018. Netanyahu will turn seventy in 2019. He is convinced that no one else but him is qualified to lead the nation into its eighth decade and beyond,”[iii] Pfeffer concludes. Anshel Pfeffer’s biography is readable, easy to understand and very informative. The sequence of events, the clear plot and easy language will keep any reader engaged. This biography was a great read and should be read by anyone who is interested to know more about Israeli politics and Netanyahu today.
[i] Pfeffer, A. (2018). Part 2- Outsiders in the New State: 1949- 1976. In Bibi: the turbulent life and times of Benjamin Netanyahu. Hurst & Company.
[iii] Pfeffer, A. (2018). Epilogue-Netanyahu’s Israel at Seventy. In Bibi: the turbulent life and times of Benjamin Netanyahu. Hurst & Company.