Israel’s biggest national celebrity was born in 1954, his first name is pronounced “Benno,” his Jewish mother’s surname. His first name was shortened by his Orthodox parents so that a seventh Hebrew name would be okay, but even with that reduced number the fact that he was born on the name Benno Benjamin was sufficient.
He is the son of Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as Israel’s prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and from 1996 to 1999, and Sara Netanyahu, who was a pastry cook in their home. His younger brother, Yair, studied architecture in Stanford University and now works in Netanyahu’s secret service.
The 52-year-old is a fervent pro-Israel advocate, who has previously won elections as the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, head of the Israeli army and minister of communications. He has close personal links to America and other Western countries and has been made an honorary citizen of the United States in 2009 by President Barack Obama and of Canada in 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Two of his sons — Yair and Yair Jr. — are serving in the Israel Defense Forces. One son of his former wife is also in the IDF. Benjamin is an extremely active member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, having served in almost every legislature since 1998.
Netanyahu was elected leader of the Likud Party and of the coalition government in 1996, the first time since 1977 that the Likud had won an outright majority of seats in the parliament. He took office in 1998 with a three-seat majority, and in 1999, with 42 seats of the 120 in the chamber, the largest number the party had ever enjoyed. He served two three-year terms as prime minister, retiring in 2008. Since then, as Israel’s leader, he has continued his strategy of campaigning relentlessly, even though he has not held an official position in an elected government.
Last month, Netanyahu won a primary election, arguably another form of office. This one was run by the Central Elections Committee, which recommended that voting take place last Friday in 10 voting locations around the country, even though it had been called off by a court order due to the threat of violence, mostly against women. Netanyahu won almost 62 percent of the vote, enough to win the primary outright. Last October, he was charged by Israel’s attorney general with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, alleged offences that he calls “baseless” and will fight “tooth and nail.”
Since his retirement as prime minister in 2009, Netanyahu has kept to an informal political approach that has emphasized his political skills and sound conservative economic policies. He also continues to attempt to shore up support among Likud supporters by drumming up world media attention to his speeches, which are often followed by wall-to-wall media coverage from Israel, the U.S. and the rest of the world. His office has called what many see as a bid for international respectability as a “beacon of light.”