If you don’t follow global politics, you may not know much about Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli leader was a vocal lobbyist for Israeli rights, and his interesting political views and outspoken nature have long put him at odds with the U.S., United Nations, and Middle Eastern neighbors.
So what do we know about the man who has led Israel for over a decade? Here are 8 interesting facts that give us insight into this controversial political figure.
Benjamin Netanyahu: 8 Fascinating Facts on the Israeli Prime Minister
1. His nickname is Bibi.
Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv on October 21, 1949 with the traditional version of his name—Binyamin. He is the son of Benzion Netanyahu, a Jewish historian, and Tzila Segal. Ever since he was a child, he has gone by the nickname Bibi.
Bibi went to high school in the U.S. whilst his father worked as a university lecturer. He went on to study business management at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Thanks to his international education, Netanyahu is the most fluent English speaking politician in Israel.
2. He served in the military.
In 1967, Benjamin enlisted in the Israeli military. He went on to join the Sayeret Matkal—Israel’s elite special forces unit—and was involved in the rescue of passengers aboard a hijacked jet at Tel Aviv airport in 1972, an interesting fact about Benjamin Netanyahu.
He fought in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, returning from Massachusetts to fight alongside his people.
In 1976, his brother, Jonathan, led the Entebbe raid. The raid—officially named Operation Entebbe—was a counter-terrorist rescue mission in Uganda on July 4, 1976. The mission successfully saved the lives of hostages, but Netanyahu’s brother died during the raid. Following this, Benjamin founded an institute to sponsor anti-terrorist conferences.
3. He has influential friends.
After graduating from MIT, Netanyahu was headhunted by the Boston Consulting Group. He worked there for two years, alongside Mitt Romney. The two became good friends, and are both very complimentary towards each other to this day. Romney has said of Netanyahu, “We share common experiences and have a perspective which is similar.”
While working at the anti-terrorist institute he founded, Netanyahu met George H.W. Bush, Henry Jackson, and Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson—who he considered the most influential man of our time.
In the 1980s, whilst living in New York city, Netanyahu became acquainted with Fred Trump—a prominent real-estate developer, and the father of future president, Donald Trump. The two remained friends for many years, although Netanyahu and his friend’s son would not have that same level of mutual respect.
4. His rise to the top was fast.
Before he was elected to the Israeli parliament in 1988, Netanyahu served as an ambassador. After becoming a member of the Likud party, he served as deputy minister of foreign affairs, as deputy minister, and then in 1993, he became leader of the party, an interesting fact about Benjamin Netanyahu.
One of his first power moves was his party’s move against the Israel-PLO peace accords, and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank.
5. He is the youngest prime minister Israel has ever had.
Netanyahu beat Prime Minister Shimon Peres by a 1% margin of votes, in May, 1996. He was 46 years old.
Political and civil unrest underscored his time as prime minister. Relations between Israel and Syria were volatile, and Netanyahu’s decision to open an ancient tunnel sparked violent clashes with the Palestinian people.
In 1997, he withdrew troops from Hebron, in the West Bank, to ease civil unrest. Following this, however, Netanyahu made one of the most unpopular political decisions of his career. He made a public announcement to establish a Jewish settlement on Palestinian-claimed land, and reneged on part of the Israel-Palestine land deal his cabinet had established. Massive protests followed, as well as a series of bombings.
6. His re-election campaign was a major failure.
Following the protests and bombings that underscored the end of his first term, Netanyahu arranged peace talks with Yasser Arafat. Their talks established the Wye Memorandum, which—among other things—agreed to return up to 40% of the West Bank to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s cabinet was not happy. The agreement was opposed by right-wingers, and the government coalition. Some factions stood down from their roles, and the Knesset dissolved the government in 1998.
His re-election campaign went badly from the start. Voters’ lacked confidence in his inconsistent policies. Fraud charges were brought against someone with close ties to the prime minister. Scandal followed Netanyahu’s attorney general. All these issues culminated with Netanyahu being defeated in the election campaign by Ehud Barak of the Labour Party.
7. He worked under Ariel Sharon.
Netanyahu still had a loyal following in Israel following his political defeat. He stayed with the Likud Party under its new leader—Ariel Sharon—and became foreign minister. His next role was as finance minister. In 2005, when Sharon left to form his own political party, Netanyahu stepped up to lead Likud again.
In 2009, he became the prime minister of Israel for a second time, an interesting fact about Benjamin Netanyahu.
8. Leadership has not been easy.
Since being elected as prime minister in February 2009, strife between Israel and Palestine has been front and foremost for the Israeli leader. His government proposed conditions for an independent Palestinian state, which were firmly rejected. Negotiations broke down again less than a year later, and have been stalled for almost a decade.
His government have also opposed Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and lobbied for global leaders to do the same. While he battles for the safety of his people, he also faces unrest at home due to economic inequality and a lack of funding for education, public services, housing, and transportation.
In 2014, he ordered a major military operation in Gaza, as retaliation against fire on Israel by Palestinian supporters. The attack has cost massive casualties, and driven a breakdown in Israel’s global relationships. Opinions remain divided, and the leader’s future has often been under threat because of it.
In 2018, Israel set an early election for April, 2019, due to more scandal involving Netanyahu. Although the charismatic leader won the election, lack of support meant he was unable to form a coalition party.
This became irrelevant in November, 2019, when Israel’s attorney general indicted Bibi Netanyahu for bribery, breach of trust, and fraud.
The controversial leader has a colorful past. His political and ethical compasses might not earn him many loyal companions, but they have earned him loyalty among many of Israel’s people, and he continues to have a strong following.
He is married with three children, and lives in Jerusalem as he continues to operate in the political arena pending trial.
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