Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu is best known for his service as prime minister of Israel.

Who Is Benjamin Netanyahu?

Benjamin Netanyahu was born on October 21, 1949, in Tel Aviv, Israel. He joined the Israeli military in 1967, moving into the special operations force that rescued a hijacked airplane at the Tel Aviv airport in 1972. Netanyahu became leader of the right-wing Likud party in 1993 and has gone on to serve as prime minister for multiple terms, winning reelection in 2015 in a tense campaign.


Benjamin Netanyahu was born on October 21, 1949, in Tel Aviv, Israel and grew up in Jerusalem. He spent most of his teen years living in the Philadelphia area, where his father, noted Jewish historian Benzion Netanyahu, worked as a professor. In 1967, he returned to Israel to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces' elite unit, "Sayeret Matkal," and took part in a number of military operations, including the dramatic 1972 rescue of a hijacked Sabena passenger jet. Codenamed "Operation Isotope," the rescue was led by future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Diplomatic Work

Netanyahu returned to the United States that same year and went on to receive degrees in architecture and business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1976, he was employed by the Boston Consulting Group, but returned to Israel following the death of Yoni, his eldest brother, who was killed while attempting to free hostages from a hijacked Air France airliner in Uganda. 

Netanyahu became highly involved in international counterterrorism efforts, which helped launch his political career. After serving in the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. (1982-84), he became the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations (1984-88). During his time at the U.N., he successfully led a campaign to declassify U.N. archives on Nazi war crimes.

Political Success

In 1988, Netanyahu was elected a member of the Knesset (Israel's parliament) by the right-wing Likud Party and served as deputy minister for foreign affairs. Five years later, he was elected chairman of the Likud Party and its prime minister candidate. In 1996, he was elected prime minister of Israel, defeating incumbent Labor candidate Shimon Peres. Netanyahu served as prime minister until 1999. During his term, he signed the Hebron and Wye Accords, advancing the peace process with the Palestinians. He also expanded government privatization, liberalized currency regulations and reduced deficits.

After resigning from the Knesset following his election loss to his former commander Barak, Netanyahu worked in the private sector and toured on the lecture circuit. He returned to politics in 2002, serving as minister of foreign affairs before becoming minister of finance. 

On March 31, 2009, Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister for the second time, punctuating his victory by establishing a national unity government and calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. In his famous June 2009 address to Bar-Ilan University, he said, "I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state."

Objections to Nuclear Program 

However, Netanyahu found himself at odds with the United States in November 2013. He objected to the deal reached between the U.S. and Iran over the latter's nuclear program, with terms that included the reduction or suspension of efforts to enrich uranium in exchange for a loosening of existing sanctions. According to CNN, Netanyahu blasted the deal as "a historic mistake," adding that "sanctions that took years to put in place are going to be eased."

The year 2014 brought great turmoil for the region, with conflict escalating rapidly during the summer between Palestinian military group Hamas and Israel after the killing of three teenagers. The Gaza region was targeted by Israeli forces as a Hamas stronghold, with thousands of rockets fired and international outcry ensuing over the destruction and massive loss of civilian life. In December of that year, Netanyahu fired two of his cabinet members, citing their critiques of the government, and initiated the dissolution of the coalition parliament, with new elections to be held in March of the next year.

In early March 2015, two weeks before his country's elections, Netanyahu addressed a highly partisan U.S. Congress to further critique America's policy on Iran's nuclear program. President Obama continued to defend the plan, with the two leaders having notably different stances on what the end goal for Iran's weapons capabilities should be.

Reelection Amid Controversy

Netanyahu won his country's mid-March elections, defeating Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union alliance, who focused more on domestic issues during his campaign. The Likud party earned 30 parliamentary suits and was geared to be the head of a coalition government. 

Further controversy arose with analysts critiquing the leader's use of anti-Arab rhetoric as voters went to the polls (for which he later apologized), with Netanyahu having also delivered wavering comments about supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. He clarified his statements immediately after the elections and said a two-state solution remained on the table.

Investigations and Protests

In August 2017, it was revealed that Netanyahu had been named a suspect in two investigations into allegations of "fraud, breach of trust and bribes." One case involved his acceptance of gifts from two prominent businessmen, while the second centered on his alleged attempt to coerce a newspaper into more favorable coverage of his tenure.

Subsequently, the Likud Party sponsored the so-called "recommendations bill" to limit the information made available to the public during investigations and end the practice of police recommending to prosecutors whether to indict suspects. 

The bill sparked outrage from critics, who viewed it as a blatant attempt to shield Netanyahu from a potentially unfavorable outcome to the investigations. On December 2, days before parliament was expected to ratify the bill, opponents held a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv that involved an estimated 20,000 protesters. The following day, Netanyahu said he had instructed his political allies to reword the bill so it didn't appear to conflict with his ongoing investigations.

On February 13, 2018, Israeli police released a statement in which they said there was enough evidence from the two investigations to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. However, Netanyahu brushed off the notion that he would be subjected to punishment, saying on TV that he would continue as prime minister and that the allegations "will end with nothing." 

Two-State Obstacles

On December 6, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his administration was formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that was criticized by the Palestinian Authority and most member states of the U.N. but praised by Israeli leaders. "The Jewish people and the Jewish state will be forever grateful,” said Netanyahu in a video, calling the decision "courageous and just."

Seemingly emboldened by the support, the Israeli Parliament in early January 2018 enacted a new law that required a supermajority vote for the ratification of any peace deal that included ceding part of Jersusalem. Around the same time, the Likud Central Committee produced a unanimous but nonbinding vote to support "free construction and application of Israeli law and sovereignty in all liberated areas of settlement" in the West Bank, effectively calling for the annexation of Israeli settlements on contested land under military jurisdiction.

Personal Life

Netanyahu has a wife, Sara, a child psychologist. They have two children together: Yair and Avner. Netanyahu also has a daughter, Noa, from a previous marriage that ended in 1978. 

The prime minister has written and edited several books, many of which are on the subject of terrorism: Self-Portrait of a Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu (1963-76); International Terrorism: Challenge and Response (1979); Terrorism: How the West Can Win (1987); A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1992); Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic; and International Terrorism (1996).

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