Biography of Benjamin NetanyahuIsrael's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fervent fighter against terrorism, took office in 1996, becoming the youngest prime minister in the country's history. He holds another record, serving longer as prime minister than the nation's founding father, David Ben-Gurion: from 1996 to 1999, 2009 to 2021, and 2022 to the present.
Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, has always been open about his conservative views. Bibi, as Israelis call him, was as loved as he was despised in the country. His fellow citizens criticized him for not making efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dubious reforms, growing closer to Russia, and distancing from the US.
By 2020, the prime minister faced multiple criminal charges and was suspected of corruption, fraud, breach of trust, and several other offenses. By 2023, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated into open warfare: in October, HAMAS attacked Israel, after which Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency and announced an offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Childhood and FamilyBenjamin Netanyahu was born on October 21, 1949, in Tel Aviv. His father, history professor Benzion Netanyahu, originally from Warsaw, served as a personal assistant to Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a writer and publicist with conservative views. Jabotinsky's works formed the foundation of the Likud party's beliefs, which the politician would later lead.
His grandfather, Rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky, hailed from the Belarusian town of Krevo, which was then part of the Russian Empire.
Benjamin's mother, Tzila Segal, was born in Petah Tikva. She met her future husband while studying in Palestine, and they married in 1944.
Benjamin was the middle child. He had an older brother by three years, Yonatan (who heroically died in 1976 during the Entebbe operation). When Benjamin was 8, another son, Iddo, was born; he is now a radiologist and playwright.
For the first 15 years of his life, Benjamin practically lived between two countries because his father taught in the US. It was also in the US that he completed high school in 1967.
Military Service and EducationAfter graduation, he returned to Israel to serve in the Defense Forces. Netanyahu joined the "Sayeret Matkal", a special reconnaissance unit considered elite. With them, Benjamin participated in several operations conducted in foreign territories, like Lebanon or Azerbaijan. He also fought in the Six-Day War in the Middle East.
In 1969, during Operation "Bulmus-4", Netanyahu narrowly escaped drowning when an attack on a boat almost pulled him underwater due to his heavy backpack. Three years later, Benjamin got wounded while freeing a plane from terrorists. A few months after, he finished his service with the rank of captain.
To pursue his education, Netanyahu returned to the US and enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), majoring in architecture. He had to interrupt his studies in 1973 due to the Yom Kippur War. Benjamin expressed a desire to participate in the battles at the Suez Canal.
He graduated from MIT in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in architecture. A year later, he also earned a master's degree in management. Subsequently, Benjamin continued his studies in political science at Harvard. He financed his studies by taking up a modest position at a consulting firm in Boston.
First Steps in PoliticsIn 1977, Netanyahu returned to Israel. Initially, he earned a living as the head of marketing for a furniture company. However, he was always drawn to public and political activism.
Being the son and grandson of individuals with a clear literary talent, Benjamin also possessed a flair for writing. He penned articles for globally renowned publications such as "The Washington Post," "Time," "The New York Times," "Le Monde," and others. He also founded the "Jonathan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute," where he started organizing thematic conferences worldwide.
Through this work, Netanyahu got acquainted with many prominent Israeli politicians of the time, including Israel's ambassador to the US, Moshe Arens. In 1982, Arens appointed the ambitious young man as his deputy, marking the beginning of Benjamin's diplomatic career.
For two years, he served as Israel's Consul General in the US, after which he became the country's ambassador to the UN. He held this position until 1988, working on archives that unveiled the Nazi sympathies of former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. Even then, Netanyahu established himself as a distinguished orator.
First Term as Prime MinisterIn 1988, Benjamin Netanyahu decided to return to Israel to start his political career. He became a member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) for the conservative "Likud" party and was appointed as the country's Deputy Foreign Minister.
Four years later, the party leader, Yitzhak Shamir, resigned. Netanyahu managed to take his place, becoming the leader of the opposition in the Knesset. Under his leadership, the Likud party consistently opposed Arab terrorism and the withdrawal of troops from the Gaza Strip.
In 1996, direct elections for the Prime Minister were held for the first time. Two candidates participated: Shimon Peres and Netanyahu, with Netanyahu being appointed as the head of government. Initially, public sympathy was with Peres. However, shortly before the election, terrorist attacks organized by Palestinians shifted public opinion. Benjamin's strong anti-terrorism stance resonated with the Israeli populace, making him the youngest Prime Minister in the nation's history.
Yet, his Likud party couldn't secure a majority in the parliament. So, throughout his first term, Netanyahu had to work with deputies whose views clashed with his own.
As Prime Minister, Netanyahu made headlines in 1998 when he signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat, handing over most of the city of Hebron and nearly 13% of the West Bank to the Palestinians.
In addition to addressing long-standing conflicts between Arabs and Israelis, Netanyahu aimed to strengthen the country's economy. He focused on the high-tech sector and promoted free enterprise.
However, some of his decisions faced public backlash. An unsuccessful assassination attempt by Mossad on terrorist Khaled Mashal in 1997 worsened Israel's relations with Jordan. Netanyahu and his political colleagues had to personally address the ensuing conflict.
Controversy also arose over Netanyahu's idea to establish a new Jewish district in southern Jerusalem. This move was strongly opposed by the Palestinians and Yasser Arafat himself, who halted peace talks. Additionally, there were issues with the approval of the national budget. Criticism of Netanyahu's actions in the Knesset became increasingly frequent.
As a result, in 1999, early elections for the Prime Minister were held, and Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak.
Further Political CareerAfter the unsuccessful elections, Benjamin Netanyahu took a break from politics and toured the world giving lectures as a high-tech business consultant. In 2001, Ehud Barak resigned as Prime Minister. However, Netanyahu chose not to participate in the elections and even declined the chance to lead the "Likud" party.
Ariel Sharon became the new Prime Minister. In 2002, he appointed Netanyahu as Foreign Minister and, a year later, as the Finance Minister. In this role, Netanyahu focused on cutting state expenses, reforming the pension system, and reducing taxes.
Three years later, Netanyahu announced his resignation from the government. He became the leader of the "Likud" party and, in 2006, led the opposition in the Knesset.
After another three years, parliamentary elections took place. "Likud" came in second, losing to the young liberal party "Kadima". However, its leader, Tzipi Livni, couldn't secure support from the members of the Knesset, so Israel's President Shimon Peres entrusted the task of forming a government to Netanyahu. He assembled the largest cabinet with 39 ministers.
During this time, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State under the Barack Obama administration, visited Israel. She advocated for the creation of a Palestinian state, a move opposed by Netanyahu and his coalition.
Return to the Prime Minister PositionIn 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu once again took on the role of the country's Prime Minister. Around that time, US President Barack Obama demanded that the Israeli government resolve all conflicts with the Arabs within the next two years. Netanyahu's proposed plan involved significant curtailment of Palestinians' rights and their complete demilitarization.
The politician intended to recognize an independent Palestinian state only if the Arabs would acknowledge Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. As a result, relations between the two peoples only deteriorated.
In 2012, Netanyahu was re-elected as Prime Minister. Two years later, he initiated a military operation in the Gaza Strip in response to missile attacks on Israel. This strained the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Obama administration.
New elections for the Prime Minister position, again successful for Benjamin, took place in 2015. However, his term was overshadowed by investigations and suspicions of fraud and corruption. Reports suggested that Netanyahu provided political favors to millionaires in exchange for numerous gifts. Moreover, he faced allegations of creating benefits for those media outlets that only portrayed his actions in a positive light.
His growing closeness with Russia also raised concerns. Benjamin frequently held joint meetings with Vladimir Putin, discussing collaborative efforts against international terrorism.
In 2018-2019, Benjamin Netanyahu also served as Israel's Defense Minister, after the former politician Avigdor Lieberman resigned. In this role, Netanyahu criticized Iran, stating that the country failed to meet its nuclear deal commitments.
In 2019, with the onset of a new political crisis in Israel that lasted for three years, the Knesset was dissolved. In the elections, the "Likud" party secured the majority. However, Netanyahu couldn't form a coalition either time. Snap elections occurred in 2020, and Benjamin returned to the Prime Minister's office. By 2021, four significant agreements had been signed, the "Abraham Accords", which aimed at normalizing relations between Israel and Muslim countries like Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and the UAE. The Prime Minister personally advocated for these agreements.
Yet, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous other issues, the Knesset was again dissolved. In June 2021, Benjamin left his post since most of the parliamentary votes went to Naftali Bennett.
However, he wasn't out of the government for long. The following year, the country held parliamentary elections in which the "Likud" party, led by Netanyahu, took the lead. By the end of that year, he became Prime Minister again, starting his sixth term.
The first half of the new term proved tumultuous for Netanyahu. His judicial reform drew sharp public criticism. Opponents claimed that with his ideas, he violated workers' rights, democratic principles, and tarnished Israel's international image. In March, large cities experienced protests.
Defense Minister Yoav Galant also opposed the reform, prompting Netanyahu to quickly dismiss him from his position. By summer, the first law limiting the powers of the Supreme Court passed in the parliament. By September, the country began reviewing residents' petitions against the reform.
Criminal Cases Against NetanyahuThe first allegations against Benjamin Netanyahu were raised in the Israeli press as early as 1999. Based on these scandalous articles, the police suspected the politician of corruption and breach of trust. However, the case never made it to court at that time.
But in 2020, a major trial began, addressing several cases against the Prime Minister. For instance, "Case 1000" revolved around expensive gifts Netanyahu allegedly received from wealthy acquaintances in return for certain favors. According to the investigation, in exchange for gifts, the politician advanced the interests of Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
"Case 2000" focused on the Prime Minister's attempts to negotiate favorable media coverage of his activities. "Case 3000" is considered one of the biggest corruption scandals in Israel. It concerns the country's defense ministry purchasing German submarines. Among those arrested were several high-ranking officials, including Netanyahu's lawyer.
Finally, the most severe suspicions – of accepting bribes – came with "Case 4000". Netanyahu was accused of lobbying for a merger of telecommunications companies and promoting favorable coverage of his work on the news website Walla!
Netanyahu himself has denied all allegations against him. Hearings on these cases are currently still ongoing.
Benjamin Netanyahu's Personal LifeBenjamin Netanyahu's first wife was chemist Miriam Weizman. The couple met in Israel, after which Miriam followed Netanyahu to the US. They married in 1974 and had a daughter named Noa in 1978. However, their marriage soon ended.
Benjamin married for the second time in 1981. He began a relationship with British student Fleur Cates while Weizman was still pregnant. Before their wedding, Cates converted to Judaism at Netanyahu's request. Nonetheless, their relationship didn't last. After moving to Israel in 1988, Cates soon filed for divorce.
The charismatic politician wasn't single for long. In 1991, he married Sara Ben-Artzi, a former flight attendant who later earned a master's degree in psychology. Sara soon gave birth to a son, Yair, and three years later, another boy, Avner.
In 2009, Netanyahu's daughter Noa made him a grandfather with the birth of her son, Shmuel. Two years later, Netanyahu welcomed another grandson, David, and in 2016, a granddaughter named Noa.
In the summer of 2023, amid the protests in Israel against the judicial reform initiated by Benjamin, the prime minister himself was hospitalized. Initially, doctors reported dehydration, but it was later revealed that he had heart issues. Medical professionals installed a pacemaker in Netanyahu, and he successfully underwent the operation.
Benjamin Netanyahu NowOn October 7th, HAMAS militants began their attack on Israel. Their actions caught both the army and the civilian population off guard. Israelis had placed their trust in the power of their national intelligence and the reliability of the famed "Iron Dome" missile defense system.
However, during the initial hours of the military conflict, residents of areas bordering Palestine had to fend off attackers largely on their own, without the army or police's support. This led to an unprecedented wave of criticism directed at Netanyahu.
The day after the attack, the Prime Minister announced an offensive operation on the Gaza Strip and officially declared the "alef 40" state, effectively acknowledging a state of war. The Israel Defense Forces then announced the commencement of Operation "Iron Swords".
Soon after, Netanyahu reported that within the first day, the forces had eliminated a significant number of terrorists who had managed to cross the border. Nonetheless, critics labeled the current conflict as the biggest security failure of the nation in the past 50 years. The death toll of Israelis surpassed 1,300 people.
Furthermore, some experts believe that the government's policies, such as diplomatic inaction and building settlements on Arab territories, drove the Palestinians to take aggressive actions.
By October 11th, Israel established an emergency government, which included Netanyahu. It was expected that this body would only make decisions or pass bills related to the conduct of the war.
"We have set aside all other concerns because our nation's fate is at stake now. We will work together for the benefit of all Israelis and for the State of Israel," the Prime Minister stated.
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