June 12, 2024
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Bibi by Bibi: An Outsized Memoir, an Outsized Life

Reviewing: “Bibi: My Story” by Bibi Netanyahu. Threshold Editions. 2022. English. Hardcover. 736 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1668008447.

Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu spans Israeli history like a colossus, and you can read all about him in his new memoir, Bibi.

Bibi has been, on and off, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and in a country of controversial politicians, he perhaps has been the greatest lightning rod of them all.

Vilified by the left, doggedly pursued by the media and the judicial system, Bibi shrugs off controversies, challenges, and legal cases as if they were so many spitballs fired at a battleship.

The book begins with a tender account of his early years growing up in Jerusalem, born just a year after the country was founded. His father was an illustrious historian and author who took the family on several lengthy stays in the United States. Bibi and his brothers didn’t love the dislocation, but the experience of receiving an American education and understanding the American mind proved mightily valuable to Bibi throughout his political career.

The opening section also details with tenderness his admiration and love for his older brother Yonaton, who was cut down in the Entebbe hostage rescue in 1976. The detailed, blow-by-blow account of that raid is spine-tingling and painful to read, as Bibi learns and then must inform his parents of his valiant brother’s death.

Bibi wore a number of different hats before he entered politics. He served in Israel’s most elite Special Forces unit, known simply as “The Unit.” He returned to the United States for graduate studies at MIT, worked as a business consultant at Mitt Romney’s firm, and then went into diplomacy and ultimately, and perhaps inevitably, government service.

Bibi’s political career was animated by two core ideas. With regard to geopolitics, he believed, the rest of the world, including the Israeli left, Israeli and American media, and practically all U.S. leaders he encountered, believed that you could solve the Palestinian problem by giving the Palestinians a state.

In his memoir, Bibi called this idea an “inversion,” a term he uses frequently to describe situations where people have things exactly backward. The Palestinians, he believed, weren’t interested in a state of their own as much as wiping the state of Israel off the map. Since that was their real goal, no amount of compromise or caving would lead to Palestinian compromise.

Everyone else was engaged in the chase for the “Holy Grail” of Middle East peace by assuming that if you give the Palestinians enough, they will ultimately strike a deal with Israel. Bibi found himself constantly pillaged by political opponents and the media, not to mention presidents like George H. W. Bush and Obama, for failing to cater to the Palestinians.

Bibi believed that in a tough neighborhood like the Middle East, political and military strength mattered, and soft power only got you so far. And with the Palestinians, soft power got you nowhere.

The second core belief of Bibi’s, honed in his MBA studies and his work at Boston Consulting Group, was a strong belief in free markets, free enterprise, and freedom from government interference in the economy. The state of Israel was a socialist enterprise from jump street. Dismantling the shackles that socialism placed on the economy, standard of living and creative energy of Israelis required going to war with the Left, the media, the Unions and a decades-old mentality in Israel that the government knew best.

Bibi quickly oversaw the privatization of El Al, the leading banks, phone service, and other critical industries. As a result, Israel’s standard of living flourished, and “Startup Nation”—the phrase used to describe the tech bonanza in Israel—was born.

Bibi often related his experiences as Prime Minister to moments earlier in his career, such as when he was an advocate for Israel in America as a much younger man. While visiting Texas, Bibi encountered a businessman who told the story of how his grandfather had literally walked to the end of the paved streets in various Texas towns and bought the property where the town ended, confident that those properties would rise greatly in value as those towns expanded. That’s how he made his money.

Bibi took that same notion into building transportation infrastructure in Israel. He figured that just as that man’s grandfather had foreseen the rapid growth of Texas communities, excellent highways and fast rail connections throughout Israel would foster growth throughout the Holy Land. And that’s exactly what happened.

Bibi’s main political fixation was, of course, Iran. He shares a blow-by-blow description of how he failed to persuade Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to recognize the fecklessness and danger of the ill-fated Iran deal.

Bibi repeatedly tried to explain to Obama that Iran could not be placated and that Israel would protect its own security by whatever means necessary, including the destruction of Iran’s nuclear capability. Bibi’s intransigence never played well with the liberal foreign policy elites, but, he writes, he wasn’t looking for their approval. He was trying to ensure the survival of the Jewish state.

And then there’s the Israeli economy. Bibi’s memoir describes how he created expansion by eliminating punitive taxation, incentivizing a high-tech sector, making Israel a net energy exporter, and engaging with Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, while strengthening the safety net for the ill, the aged and those unable to work.

It seems as though every step Bibi took, whether battling the Palestinians and Iran or battling the Labor Party and the unions, was met with endless criticism and attacks, both political and personal, from the opposition, the media, and all too often, the White House. Bibi isn’t shy about touting his successes, lambasting his foes, preserving his witticisms or settling scores, calling to mind Winston Churchill’s dictum that “The best way to make history is to write it.”

All cavils aside, if Israel ever carves over Mount Rushmore of its leaders, Bibi’s visage will certainly find a home there. His intelligence, singleness of purpose, combativeness, adroit use of public opinion and speech-making abilities have all served one overarching goal: the preservation and growth of the Jewish state. Jews in Israel and around the world have a lot to thank Bibi for, not least of which is his compelling and intensely readable memoir.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Levin is the publisher of www.JewishLeadersBooks.com.

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