Benjamin Netanyahu is currently the Prime Minister of Israel. He served in this position twice, from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009 to the present. He also the longest-serving Prime Minister since Israel gained independence as a state.
Early life, education, and career
Benjamin Netanyahu was born on October 21, 1949, in Tel Aviv (now Tel Aviv-Yafo), the son of the accomplished historian Benzion Netanyahu, who was born in Warsaw, Poland (then Congress Poland, Russian Empire) and whose real surname was Mielkowsky. Benjamin’s grandfather was the noted Zionist rabbi and educator Nathan Mielkowsky.
He received his early education in Jerusalem. When his family relocated to the United States, they settled in Philadelphia, where he studied at a local high school while his father took a post at Dropsie College. Aside from his native Hebrew, Netanyahu speaks fluent English with a noticeable Philadelphian accent.
Netanyahu returned to Israel after graduating from high school in the U.S. in 1967. Soon, he joined the military. He eventually moved into the special operations force that rescued a hijacked jet plane at the Tel Aviv airport in 1972.
Netanyahu returned to the U.S. in 1972 where he studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). He took time out by returning to Israel shortly to fight in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Afterwards, he returned to the States to continue his studies at the M.I.T. and earned a master’s degree there in 1976.
Diplomatic career and political success
Also in 1976, Benjamin Netanyahu was working for a doctorate in political science when it was halted by the death of his brother, Jonathan (Yonatan). He was killed in Operation Entebbe, a counter-terrorist hostage rescue at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Jonathan, an Israel Defense Forces officer, was the only IDF casualty during the operation.
After his brother’s death, Netanyahu founded the Jonathan Institute, which sponsored international conferences on terrorism.
Since then, Netanyahu became highly involved in international anti-terrorism efforts, which began his political career. He held several ambassadorship positions. They include serving in the Israeli embassy in Washington D.C. from 1982 to 1984, and as an Israeli ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988.
First term as Prime Minister (1996 – 1999)
In 1988, Netanyahu was elected to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as a member of the right-wing Likud party. He also served as deputy minister for foreign affairs from 1988 to 1991.
In 1993 he was elected chairman of the Likud party and its prime minister candidate. Three years later, he was elected prime minister of Israel, defeating incumbent Labor candidate Shimon Peres.
During his tenure as prime minister, he signed the Hebron Protocol and the Wye River Memorandum, advancing the peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu also expanded government privatization, relaxed currency regulations and cut down deficits.
Following his defeat in the 1999 elections, Netanyahu returned to work in the private sector. In 2002, he returned to being a public servant, serving as foreign affairs minister and then minister of finance.
Second term as Prime Minister (2009 – )
In March 2009, Netanyahu was elected as prime minister for the second time, emphasizing his victory by establishing a national unity government. In his speech at Bar-Ilan University, he called for a “Demilitarized Palestinian State,” although he also said that Jerusalem must remain as Israel’s capital.
He found himself at odds with the U.S. in November 2013 when he objected to the deal reached between the U.S. and Iran over the latter’s nuclear weapons program. It included terms that consisted of reducing suspension of efforts to enrich uranium in exchange for a relaxing of existing sanctions. Netanyahu described the deal as the greatest threat to Israel’s security and world peace.
He also held negative views towards a series of uprisings in the Arab world, collectively known as “Arab Spring,” predicting that the new Arab leaders would be more hostile to Israel than their predecessors.
In March 2015, Netanyahu won in mid-March elections, amid controversy which arose among analysts critiquing his use of anti-Arab rhetoric as voters went to the polls, something for which he later apologized.
Since December 2016, Netanyahu has been under investigation by police and prosecutors for corruption. On November 21, 2019, he was formally indicted for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. His trial was expected to start in the first half of 2020. He was also legally required to relinquish all of his other ministry posts than his position of prime minister.