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One-eyed self-portrait of savvy, obsessive, flawed PM

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It’s a good thing for Israel that this autobiography of its dominant, domineering prime minister is unlikely to go on sale in most of the countries that surround it. Outside Israel, the Middle East has a fairly basic approach to censorship: if we don’t like the author, we won’t sell their books. This has given Israel a significant head start in its battles with its neighbours since it generally understands them better than they understand it.

In the case of the memoirs of Benjamin Netanyahu, written during a brief interregnum in his long career, we can push that argument a step further. If the Arab world had just one politician who had learnt – perhaps from this sort of instruction manual – how to be as savvy, obsessive and determined as Netanyahu is, Israel might well not be as powerful as it is today.

For Netanyahu’s career, as this book makes insistently clear, is a lesson in success. In one sense – certainly in his own mind – that is because Netanyahu the son of Israel, Netanyahu the politician and Netanyahu the family man is an astonishingly unitary individual.

There are no divisions in his life.

Born in 1949, a year after Israel’s founding, he has nurtured a single-minded belief that his interests and its interests are the same.

As described in Bibi: My Story and in interviews and press conferences, only his wisdom has made Israel secure, only he rescued its economy in the early 2000s, only he was inspired to establish it as one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations.

No, more than that: this confluence of interest began before his birth. His story is interspersed with portraits of his father, nationalist historian Benzion; his grandfather, early Zionist Nathan; and his elder brother Yoni, who was killed leading the 1976 raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda to rescue hostages held by pro-Palestinian terrorists.

“Only in retrospect can I see that my entrance into political life was in many ways predestined,” Netanyahu writes.

Blessed with such a family, how could he fail? Even in later adulthood, heaven seems to have bestow ed on Netanyahu companions of other-worldly virtues. One day he met a woman in the dutyfree shop at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Sara, his third wife, turned out to be an “adored and sought after” psychologist and an “angel of comfort and good sense”.

The reputation she has earned for self-aggrandisement and over-enjoyment of the petty luxuries that come with office is just the smear of journalists who have always, right from the start, from the moment he became a minister, he tells us repeatedly, had it in for him.

But this unappetising account of himself is, thankfully, wrong, in important ways. Netanyahu is not a messiah.

The real Netanyahu has two overriding characteristics. First, he is tremendously insecure. Yoni is constantly there as a model to live up to and it must be a heavy burden to have had an older sibling die young in such an eye-catching, heroic manner. He is vain, uninterested in the lives of those whose existence does not impinge on his.

He stitches people up left, right and centre. He uses the book to settle scores, sneering, for example, at the military record of Ehud Barak, his former commander and later political opponent. His personal life was once obviously a mess. He skates over the failures of his first two marriages. He doesn’t mention the affair that almost, and embarrassingly, ended his third, although he had to admit it live on air in 1993 to pre-empt what he said was a blackmail attempt.

“I have lived a life of purpose, to help secure the future of my ancient people,” he concludes.

Will pride come before a fall? Ironically, the danger is that, just as Arab leaders have not learnt from his success, so he has not learnt from their failures. The Nassers and Gaddafis and Assads precipitated the collapse of their states thanks to their lack of democratic accountability, their sectarianism, their hubris. Netanyahu has created an Israel where, likewise, the drive for security obscures intensifying social, religious and political divides.

Even as this book is being published, he is doubling down, returning to power by forging a coalition with ultra-Orthodox and openly racist parties. Above all, thanks to his bypassing the issue of Palestinian statehood, Israel must now apparently cease to be a democracy or cease to be a Jewish state, the two attributes of which it, and he, are most proud. But he does not care. At the end of this personal testament he quotes author Will Durant: “We need not fret about the future.” The present and immediate triumph is all that counts. His verdict on Durant is the same and as unnuanced as his verdict on himself. “He was right.”

Article link:
Article source: The Australian (The Times) | Richard Spencer | 13.12.22

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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