A ‘Shocking’ Threat From Obama Is Related in Netanyahu’s New Book

The former Israeli prime minister lays to the former American president ‘not just bad policy, but malice.’

AP/Maya Alleruzzo, file
A former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at Jerusalem, June 14, 2021. AP/Maya Alleruzzo, file

A former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in his new autobiography, lifts the lid on aspects of his life and various interactions with world leaders — including President Obama, who, he claims, had toward the State of Israel “not just bad policy, but malice.”

The book, titled “Bibi: My Story,” will be released in English on Tuesday. It makes  for some riveting, if at times unsettling, reading, shedding light as it does on arguably the most fraught personal relationship in modern American-Israeli history. 

Mr. Netanhayu has thus far held Israel’s top political post in two separate time frames, first in the late 1990s and again between 2009 and 2021. The eight years that coincided with Mr. Obama’s occupation of the White House were marked by a clash not just of policy priorities but of personalities.

That contributed to what Mr. Netanyahu says were repeated attempts by the Obama administration to “force confrontations” with Israel. According to translated excerpts from the Hebrew version of the book, which came out on Friday and that were first published in the Jerusalem Post, Mr. Obama even once issued a veiled threat to Mr. Netanyahu of a personal nature. 

That is said to have occured in 2009, when the two men met at the White House for the first time. At the meeting’s conclusion, Mr. Netanyahu alleges that Mr. Obama said to him, “You know, people often read me wrong, but I come from Chicago. I know how to deal with tough rivals.”

Then the president “shocked” Mr. Netanyahu by conveying to him a message that, he writes, “was meant to strike fear in me.” Those who have followed Mr. Netanyahu’s long and illustrious, if not scandal-free, career in the gladiatorial arena that is Israeli politics know he is not one in whom fear takes up residence for long.

Mr. Netanyahu does not specify in the memoir what the message was, but as the Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov reported, in a recent biography called “Cracking the Netanyahu Code,” the journalist “Mazal Mualem said that Obama gestured as though he was slitting someone’s throat while saying he knows how to deal with Netanyahu.”

In “My Story,” Mr. Netanyahu does describe how he responded to Mr. Obama’s alleged taunt — to wit, “Mr. President, I am sure you meant what you said. But I am the prime minister of Israel, and I will do all that I can to defend my country.” 

He also writes that Mr. Obama is someone who “saw the world through anti-colonialist glasses” and put pressure on him over the Palestinian issue on the basis of “something much deeper, ideologically and personally,” than had been the case with previous American presidents.

In his estimation, Mr. Obama failed to grasp some basics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the notion that “if there is any colonialism … it is Arab colonialism that began in the Muslim conquest of the Land of Israel, after which the land was emptied of most of its Jews.”

In the book, according to a press release from the publisher, Simon & Schuster,  Mr. Netanyahu “through a host of vivid anecdotes narrates his own evolution from soldier to statesman, while providing a unique perspective on leadership, the fraught geopolitics of the Middle East, and his successful efforts to liberate Israel’s economy, which helped turn it into a global powerhouse of technological innovation.”

Accounts of his “often turbulent relationships and negotiations with Presidents Clinton, Obama, and Trump” figure prominently in the 736-page memoir, as do “decisive events that led to Israel’s groundbreaking 2020 peace agreements with four Arab states.”

The timing of the memoir’s release in America just two weeks before an election in Israel is likely no accident. Although currently in opposition, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud, with 29 seats in the Knesset, is Israel’s biggest political party. If his bloc garners 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the November 1 vote, it could form a new government.

Mr. Netanyahu is one of the most media-savvy politicians on the planet. On Friday he appeared live via video link on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” taking the host’s alternately sardonic and serious line of questioning with gazelle-like alacrity.

When asked by the television host if rapper Kanye West’s recent untoward invective toward “the Jewish people” would make Israel “retaliate” — well, just watch the clip. Neither Mr. Netanyahu nor his publishers, incidentally, leave many details to chance. The front of the book shows a smiling  Mr. Netanyahu, now 72, head turned resolutely to the right. His chief rival, the current Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, tends to gaze left.

The New York Sun

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