Perhaps it’s now impossible to read any political biography without thinking of Donald Trump. The forty-fifth president of the United States looms so large in the global imagination that the impulse to measure all other politicians against him has become almost involuntary. But in the case of Benjamin Netanyahu, the grounds for comparison are stronger than most.
Anshel Pfeffer, a prolific correspondent for both Ha’aretz and The Economist, has written a detailed, revealing, and shrewd biography of Netanyahu that is packed with fascinating insights, yet the word many readers might find themselves mentally scribbling in the margins repeatedly is “Trump.” Pfeffer describes a man raised in elite institutions but nevertheless consumed by hatred of an elite from which he feels permanently excluded; a politician who built his brand through his mastery of television, with a knack for the newsworthy phrase, yet who sees the media as a sworn enemy, convinced that TV and the press have hindered his progress to high office when in fact they have smoothed it. We see a man mired in corruption allegations, watching as his aides flip to assist dogged state investigators, but who nonetheless retains the adulation of his base.
We are told that at
rallies organized by his supporters, he launched into long rants against the “leftist fake news media” he said were behind the “unprecedented witch hunt” against him and his family. He made long lists of his achievements, punctuated with the refrain, “That, they don’t report!”
Pfeffer is describing Netanyahu, but it could just as easily be Trump. Earlier, we see Netanyahu interviewing the unnamed N, a prospective new head of the Mossad. The prime minister asks an odd question: “‘Will you be loyal to me?’ N answered that he would do everything necessary to protect the state. ‘I’ll get back to you,’ said Netanyahu.” Change the names, and that exchange—with its demand for personal rather than institutional fealty—could have been lifted verbatim from the memoir of James Comey, the FBI director sacked by Trump.
The parallels verge on the uncanny. Netanyahu has trouble keeping his staff; the churn rate is impossibly high. He attacks his opponents with wholly bogus, invented charges. (In the 1996 election, for example, he claimed without evidence that Shimon Peres was planning to divide Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians.) In 1999, in a move that might resonate with Rex Tillerson, who learned he had been fired via a Trump tweet, Netanyahu fired his defense minister on live TV.
Once Trump entered the White House, Netanyahu wasted no time in making the connection explicit. Keen to ingratiate himself, he tweeted: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” His third wife, Sara, is similarly brazen. When Trump and his third wife, Melania, came to visit, Sara embraced them with the words, “We’re just like you. The…
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