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The Netanyahu Years Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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"A must-read for anyone eager to learn about one of Israel’s longest-standing political figures.” ―Atlanta Jewish Times
"Whether you revile or revere Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, you’ll know him better after reading Ben Caspit’s smooth, detailed political biography of Israel’s longest continuously serving prime minister." ―American Jewish World
"The Netanyahu Years is a passionate, impressionistic account of this divisive, oddly compelling world leader...Caspit writes that history will hand down its verdict on Netanyahu in its own time; this book will be indispensable in that process." ―Christian Science Monitor
About the Author
Ben Caspit is a senior columnist for the leading Israeli daily, Ma’ariv, and a regular contributor to its weekend supplement. For almost thirty years, he has been a highly respected commentator on politics, diplomacy, military affairs, and the peace process. Caspit has anchored various television news programs and radio broadcasts for the past 15 years. He lives in Israel. Ben is the author of Netanyahu: The Road to Power and The Netanyahu Years.
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Caspit’s prose—and Ora Cummings’ translation into English—is mostly lucid, articulate and vivid (although there are numerous instances where something was obviously lost in translation). But the author’s own emotions are his undoing, drowning the book’s better passages amid a sea of shrill ranting and desperately biased psychoanalysis. And so, despite an impressive resume and obvious writing skills, Caspit often comes across like an overexcited rookie reporter---self-important & eager for drama, but with a limited imagination & vocabulary.
Thus, throughout the book, people are constantly "fuming" "furious" "livid" so on.... almost invariably about very small happenings---policy disagreements, clumsy information processes---that are surely part of daily life in any government. Of course, even mundane mishaps are surely frustrating, but one begins to wonder if much of this angst isn't largely in the author's turgid imagination---or is merely part of his strenuous, and obvious, efforts to portray a government in crisis.
The few passages that describe Bibi's strengths sounds as if Caspit is really trying to give a fair & balanced account—and thus tend to give the author some credibility. Unsurprisingly, many people seem to have fallen for that. They are wrong. When the bashing begins—and it invariably does, within a page—it is so juvenile, so gleeful in describing any defeat or setback, deeming nothing too small or petty to remark on, such as the long sentences devoted to how usually Netanyahu would gobble refreshments and then, with his mouth full, watch the latest batch of commercial spots.... Is it rude to watch commercials with your mouth full? Is Netanyahu the only world leader who noshes while working? Inquiring minds do NOT want to know; we thought we’re reading a big-boy book, about a world leader and his political times, not a collection of grade-school level snark. The author’s disdain colors 95% of the book—he clearly hates Netanyahu, his wife, his clothing, his way of talking, his Israelinesss, his Americaness, his cockiness, his insecurity, and so on. Anyone who thinks a biographer with such a strong negative bias is not fatally flawed, is part of the general general problem with information these days.
Caspit tells of "an Israeli official"--anonymous as always – –who "once thanked Ambassador Samantha Power for something" and "she responded sadly that this was the first time she had ever heard these words from an Israeli.”
But… really? Caspit unironically presents this as illustrative of Netanyahu's outrageous ingratitude. A discriminating reader, however, would surely find this anecdote hard to believe as told—and if it is true, Power’s words were incredibly offensive, and indicative of many people’s double standards vis-a-vis Israel, in all aspects of diplomatic & personal behavior. To wit: an ambassador basically made a brash generalization about every Israeli she’d ever met being a rude ingrate! Substitute any other nationality, ethnicity or religious group, and say it out loud: “I’ve never heard an Arab say thank you..." Would this happen?
What's more, even if Power does indeed carry around this little bundle of anti-Israeli sentiment, on a basic conversational level, this was an extremely rude way to respond: the Israeli official said Thank you – – for passing the salt, for arranging a meeting, whatever---and she replied with a gratuitous snide comment about Israeli etiquette?
(To be sure, Israelis have a reputation for briskness; also for their readiness to lend a helping hand.)
One of Caspit's many repetitive contentions is that contrary to popular perception among supporters of Israel here and abroad, the US, particularly under Obama, was not tough enough in dealing with Netanyahu. Each time the author makes this point, there's a clear, unmistakable tone of disappointment when he describes American "duplicity"--talking tough to Israel but failing to be sufficiently punitive. After a while Caspit's very personal disappointment begins to sound weird & unsavory; he seems to be longing for scenes of humiliation & degradation, and the real-world limitations of international diplomacy---which Obama certainly trod on with regards to Netanyahu—nevertheless leave Caspit agitated & unfulfilled.
Lest anyone think this is just the author’s own opinion, endless anonymous quotations from American 'experts' push the view that Obama 'misunderstood' Netanyahu---Bibi needs a firm hand; he's a paranoid alarmist, etc.---and the anonymous 'highly placed Israeli officials,' ostensibly representing Israel's perspective, talk about how the Americans didn't know how to handle Netanyahu; the need to be appropriately tough and follow through on threats. In other words, this book presents a very complex situation from 'both' perspectives---the American Left and the Israeli Left! For people like Ben Caspit, those are the only viewpoints that matter at all.
Caspit relates, with no irony whatsoever, how at the very outset of their working relationship, Obama presented Netanyahu with "13 demands that were tantamount to ultimatums and required immediate responses"---but for the remainder of the book we’re constantly hearing him characterize Netanyahu's behavior as his usual efforts "to exhaust the president,”—which apparently refers to such impertinences as Bibi failing to immediately capitulate to Obama's 13 demands. Again, Netanyahu forgot his place.
Another of Caspit's motifs is how Netanyahu has isolated Israel, because of his suspicious attitude toward the world--(he thinks the UN is biased against Israel: imagine that!)…
But Netanyahu's last address to the UN consisted largely of a defiant yet touchingly hope-filled declaration that Israel would, someday, be an accepted, appreciated member nation among the nations of the world... Yeah, talk about cynical and suspicious! Of this, Caspit makes no mention.
Caspit tries to make the point that Netanyahu has brainwashed people into seeing him as being synonymous with Israel—Bibi is the state, the state is him—but nowhere is this odd notion more obviously present that in Caspit’s own reflexive hostility toward both Bibi & Israel; it's hard to know where his obsessive disdain for Netanyahu ends and his pathological tendency to blame Israel begins: in any given situation dealing with the US or Arab leaders, Israel is portrayed as being arrogant and not knowing its place.
There's something deeply troubling about this: why, exactly, must the Jewish state, or it's democratically elected leaders, always assume a position of subordinance to anyone ranging from Arab the dictators to the president of the United States?
This book is something of an eye-opener—but not in the way the author intended: I have never seen such an astonishingly blatant example of manipulative, dishonest journalism—and thoroughly self-absorbed bias: the author seems shameless, utterly unaware of how absurd his desperate, flailing attempts to ruin another man’s reputation appear to an objective reader. Any reviewers that read this book and find it to be ‘fair and balanced’ are simply adding another layer of deception and bias: their own.
Mr. Caspit seems like yet another journalist who dislikes Mr. Netanyahu and wants to tear him down. This is Mr. Caspit's second biography of Prime Minister Netanyahu, I hope he doesn't try for a third.
All in all, Caspit's biography is a good read. On the one hand, the author's dislike of Netanyahu and negative verdict of his legacy is obvious. But on the other hand: How could anyone's evaluation be any different in light of Netanyahu's toxic and divisive politics?