"'Always in the back of Bibi's mind is Ben-Zion', one of the prime minister's friends told me. 'He worries that his father will think he's weak'... Many people in Likud Party circles have told me that those who discount Ben-Zion's influence on his son do so at their peril... One of Netanyahu's Knesset allies told me, indelicately, though perhaps not inaccurately, that the chance for movement toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state will come only after Ben-Zion's death. 'Bibi could not withdraw from more of Judea and Samaria' - the Biblical names for the West Bank - 'and still look into his father's eyes.'" (The point of no return, Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, September 2010)
Family history. It's all the rage. While most of us have to make do with a few birth/death certificates which take us back to the late 19th century if we're lucky, one 'gentleman' puts us all in the shade. Meet Israel's prime minister, Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu, who, among other things, regaled his UNGA audience on Friday thus:
"In my office in Jerusalem, there's a - there's an ancient seal. It's a signet ring of a Jewish official from the time of the Bible. The seal was found right next door to the Western Wall, and it dates back 2,700 years, to the time of King Hezekiah. Now, there's a name of the Jewish official inscribed on the ring in Hebrew. His name was Netanyahu. That's my last name. My first, Benjamin, dates back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin - Binyamin - the son of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Sumeria [sic] 4,000 years ago, and there's been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since." (Full transcript of Netanyahu speech at UN General Assembly, Haaretz, 24/9/11)
Now if you or I carried on like this, we'd probably excite certain unmistakable hand gestures behind our backs or be deemed certifiable. And if, God forbid, a so-called world leader - and we're not talking hereditary monarch here - spoke thus, he'd become the butt of Western media jokes. But, because the offender is Israel's prime minister this kind of Zionist conceit is simply ignored - or, worse, taken seriously.
So, just for the record, I thought I'd investigate Netanyahu's family tree. Of his mother, Zila/Tzilah (1912-2000), I can find only that her maiden name was Segal. His father, Benzion (1910-), is quite a different matter, however. Born to a Polish rabbi and Zionist activist called Nathan Mileikowsky, Benzion, who went on to became secretary to Zionist Revisionist godfather Ze'ev Jabotinsky, discarded his father's Polish surname and adopted his nom de plume, Netanyahu, meaning 'Gift of God'. This, of course, is a common Zionist practice, symbolising the repudiation of an imagined 'exile' and the assumption of a new Zionist identity in Palestine.
Although Benjamin Netanyahu is a true scion of Jabotinsky's extremist Revisionist Zionism (see my 26/12/09 post A Murky Legacy), our utterly superficial ms media have never shown any real interest in exploring what this means by way of explaining Netanyahu's politics. The real Netanyahu - not to be confused with his public persona - was once, as it happens, caught on a video which, according to Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, "should have been banned for broadcast to minors":
"Meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu last week, President Obama could not have been more effusive. 'I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace', Obama said, 'I believe he is ready to take risks for peace'. A newly revealed tape of Netanyahu in 2001, being interviewed while he thinks the cameras are off, shows him in a radically different light. In it, Netanyahu dismisses American foreign policy as easy to maneuver, boasts of having derailed the Oslo accords with political trickery, and suggests that the only way to deal with Palestinians is to "beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it's unbearable'." (Fibi Netanyahu, Liel Netanyahu, tabletmag.com, 15/7/10)
So where exactly did the young Netanyahu, our little 'Gift of God', acquire his thuggish views? At daddy's knee it seems. The following Q&A with the then 99-year old Benzion Netanyahu (which his son tried to prevent from being published) comes from the 3/4/09 edition of Israel's Hebrew-language Maariv newspaper and reveals Benjamin as the proverbial chip off the old block:
Benzion Netanyahu: The Jews and the Arabs are like two goats facing each other on a narrow bridge. One must jump into the river - but that is to risk death. The stronger goat will make the weaker jump... and I believe the Jewish people will prevail.
Q: What does the Arab's jump mean?
BN: That they won't be able to face war with us [anymore], which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education, terminating electrical power and more. They won't be able to exist, and they'll run away from here. But it all depends on the war and whether we win...
Q: Operation Cast Lead was one of the worst blows we landed on a civilian population.
BN: That's not enough. It's possible we should have hit harder.
Q: You don't like the Arabs, to say the least.
BN: The Bible finds no worse image than this man from the desert. And why? Because he has no respect for any law. Because in the desert he can do as pleases. The tendency towards conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won't allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn't matter what kind of resistance he meets, what price he pays. His existence is one of perpetual war.
Q: Is there any hope of peace?
BN: Out of agreement? No. The other side might stay in peace [only] if it understands that doing anything [else] will cause it enormous pain. The two-state solution doesn't exist. There aren't two people here. There is a Jewish people and an Arab population... There is no Palestinian people, so you don't create a state for an imaginary nation*... They only call themselves a people in order to fight the Jews.
Q: So what's the solution?
BN: There is no solution except force... strong military rule. Any outbreak will bring upon the Arabs enormous suffering. We shouldn't wait for a big mutiny to start, but rather act immediately, with great force to prevent them from going on... If it's possible, we should conquer any disputed territory in the land of Israel. Conquer and hold it, even if it brings us years of war. We should conquer Gaza, and parts of the Galil, and the Golan. This will bring upon us a bloody war, since war is difficult for us. We don't have a lot of territory, while the Arabs have lots of space to retreat to. But that's the only way to survive here. (Netanyahu's father discusses the peace process, promisedlandblog.com, 3/4/09)
And when asked about his influence over Bibi today, Benzion responded: "'Bibi might aim for the same goals as mine, but he keeps to himself the ways to achieve them, because if he expressed them, he would expose his goals'."
There's a madness that runs in this family. It's called political Zionism.