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Benjamin Netanyahu

the first directly-elected Prime Minister of Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv on October 21, 1949, and grew up in Jerusalem. He spent his adolescent years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his father taught Jewish history, and graduated from a Philadelphia high school.

Returning to Israel in 1967 to fulfill his military obligations, Netanyahu volunteered for an elite commando unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. During his stint he participated in many daring operations, including the Beirut Airport Operation during the War of Attrition and the release of hostages from a hijacked Sabena Airlines plane at Ben-Gurion Airport, during which he was wounded. He was discharged with the rank of Captain following the Yom Kippur War.

Following his military duties Netanyahu returned to the United States to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he received his Bachelor of Sciences in Architecture and Master of Sciences in Management Studies. In 1976 he was hired by the Boston Consulting Group, an international business consulting firm. He later joined the management team of Rim Industries in Jerusalem.

In 1976, Netanyahu's brother Yoni died while commanding the operation that freed Israeli hostages being held at Uganda's Entebbe airport. This loss spurred Netanyahu to initiate and organize two international conferences on ways to combat international terrorism -- one in Jerusalem in 1979, and another in Washington in 1984. Both conferences attracted key political figures and opinion-makers from around the world.

Netanyahu's political career began in 1982, when he joined Israel's diplomatic mission to the United States. He spent two years as Deputy Chief of Mission under Ambassador Moshe Arens, in which capacity he was a member of the first delegation to talks on strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States. In 1984 he was appointed Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, a position he held for four years. During this period he led the effort that opened the U.N. Nazi War Crimes Archive in 1987 and played a key role in efforts to enhance Israel's image and improve understanding of his country's security needs among the "movers and shakers" in American public life.

Returning to Israel in 1988, Netanyahu was elected to the Knesset by the Likud Party and was almost immediately thereafter appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs by Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir. In 1991, Netanyahu gave up his Foreign Affairs position to become Shamir's spokesman during the Gulf War. He subsequently served as a member of the Israeli delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference, which initiated the first direct negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

On March 25, 1993, Netanyahu was elected Chairman of the Likud Party. In this capacity he led the political opposition during Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's tenure, and continued in opposition following Rabin's assassination.

In 1996, in Israel's first direct election of Prime Minister, Netanyahu narrowly defeated incumbent Labor candidate Shimon Peres. He served until 1999, when he was defeated for re-election by Ehud Barak. He spent the next few years serving as a business consultant to Israeli high-tech companies, and as a popular speaker on the global lecture circuit.

Netanyahu returned to public service in 2002, when he was named Minister of Foreign Affairs under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He left this position in 2003 to become Minister of Finance, but left Sharon's government in 2005 over policy differences.

In February 2009, following elections to the 18th Knesset, Netanyahu was charged with forming a coalition government, even though the Likud Party won the second most seats, because it was believed he had the best chance of bringing Israel's principal parties together into a single government.

Netanyahu is the author of several books, including:

Self Portrait of a Hero: From the Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu (1963-1976) (1978)
International Terrorism: Challenge and Response (1979)
Terrorism: How the West Can Win (1987)
A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations (1992)
Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism (1996)

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Asia >> Israel >> History

This page was last updated on October 20, 2017.