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Fathom 20 | ‘To understand what makes Israel tick today you must understand who Netanyahu is and how he became the man he is’: a Fathom Forum with Anshel Pfeffer

Anshel Pfeffer is the author of a major new biography of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In this wide-ranging discussion at a recent Fathom Forum in London Pfeffer talked candidly about his book and its subject. He claims that Netanyahu’s sustained dominance of Israeli politics is no interlude after which normal Labour Zionist service will be resumed. Bibi, says Pfeffer, is ‘Israeli through and through, and in order to understand what makes Israel tick today you must understand Netanyahu’. Below is an edited transcript.

Question: What distinguishes your biography of Benjamin Netanyahu from the others that have been published in the last few years?

Anshel Pfeffer: I started working on the book about three years ago. My greatest challenge was working out how to package his long and intense public career into a 400-page book. The solution I came up with, after a few false starts, was to tell the story of Israel through the lives of Netanyahu (Bibi) and his family. He was born about 16 months after the establishment of Israel and his life has run parallel to the history of the state. And he has spent the large majority of his life in public service: first in the army as a solider and officer, and then – after a short period as a student and working in the private sector – in the diplomatic corps as a deputy ambassador to the UN, before moving into politics, where he has remained for the last 30 years.

Mine is the story of Israel through the eyes of the ideology and the party which is the power in Israel today and which Netanyahu leads. Almost all the books about Israel’s history are written from the perspective of the founding generation of Labour Zionists David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan. That made sense because those people built the state and they were part of the Zionist movement before the establishment of Israel. But Likud and its ideological fathers, Herut and before that the Revisionist Party, were also always a part of Zionism and the State of Israel and it is they who have been in power now for the last three decades (with a few very short intervals).

We still tend to see the revisionists as an aberration – ‘Israel has gone off course and is now in an atypical period and sooner or later Israel should go back to what it’s always been’ – and we are still waiting for the next generation of Zionist leaders like Peres and Rabin to come along to ‘put Israel back to where it should be’. Obviously, that is a fallacy. Israel is a democracy and for most of the last four decades it’s been dominated by the group represented by Netanyahu. READ MORE.