By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
May 02, 2015
THERE ARE two different opinions about Binyamin Netanyahu. It is difficult to believe that they concern the same person. One is that Netanyahu is a shallow politician, devoid of ideas and convictions, who is led solely by his obsession to remain in power. This Netanyahu has a good voice and a talent for making shallow speeches on television, speeches devoid of any intellectual content – and that’s all.
This Netanyahu is highly “pressurable” (a Hebrew word invented almost solely for him), a man who will change his views according to political expediency, disclaiming in the evening what he has said in the morning. None of his words should be trusted. He will lie and cheat anytime to assure his survival.
The other Netanyahu is almost the exact opposite. A principled patriot, a serious thinker, a statesman who sees danger beyond the horizon. This Netanyahu is a gifted orator, able to move the US Congress and the UN plenum, admired by the great mass of Israelis.
So which of these descriptions is true? Neither.
IF IT is true that the character of a person is shaped by his early childhood, we must examine the background of Netanyahu in order to understand him. He grew up in the shadow of a strong father. Benzion Millikowsky, who changed his foreign name to the Hebrew Netanyahu, was a very dominant and very unhappy person. Born in Warsaw, then a provincial town in the Russian Empire, he immigrated to Palestine as a young man, studied history at the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem and expected to become a professor there. He was not accepted.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky; in 1923 he published an essay (in Russian) titled The Iron Wall. Jabotinsky argued that the Palestinian Arabs would not agree to a Jewish majority in Palestine, and that “Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”[ The only solution to achieve peace and a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, he argued, would be for Jews to first establish a strong Jewish state, which would eventually prompt the Arabs to “drop their extremist leaders, whose watchword is ‘never!’ and pass the leadership to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concessions.”- from Wikipedia. In later life, he did in fact argue for equality between Jews and Arabs in Palestine.
Benzion was the son of an early adherent of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, the extreme rightist Zionist leader. He inherited from his father a very extremist outlook, and passed it on to his three sons. Binyamin was the second one. His elder brother, still a child himself, called him Bibi, and the childish appellation stuck.
Benzion’s rejection by the prestigious young Hebrew University turned him into a bitter man, a bitterness that lasted until his death in 2012, at age 102. He was sure that this rejection had nothing to do with his academic qualification, and everything with his ultra-nationalist opinions. His extreme Zionism did not stop him leaving Palestine and seeking his academic luck in the United States, where a second-rate university gave him a professorship. His life’s work as a historian concerned the fate of the Jews in mediaeval Christian Spain – the expulsion and inquisition. It engendered in him a very dark world view: the conviction that Jews will always be persecuted, that all Goyim (non-Jews) hate the Jews, that a straight line connects the auto-da-fé of the Spanish inquisition with the Nazi Holocaust.
During the years, the Netanyahu family went back and forth between the US and Israel. Binyamin grew up in America, acquired perfect American English, essential for his future career, studied and became a furniture salesman, until he was discovered by the far-right Likud foreign minister, Moshe Arens, who sent him to the UN as Israeli spokesman.
BENZION NETANYAHU was not only a very bitter person, who accused the Zionist and Israeli academic establishment of failing to recognize his academic stature. He was also a very autocratic family man. The three Netanyahu boys lived in constant awe of Father. They were not allowed to make any noise at home while the Great Man worked in his closed study. They were not allowed to bring other boys home. Their mother was completely devoted to her husband and served him in every way, sacrificing her own personality. In every family, the second child of three is in a difficult position. He is not admired like the eldest, nor indulged like the youngest. For Binyamin this was especially hard, because of the personality of the eldest.