Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Australia for what is the first visit by a serving Israeli PM to the country. But who exactly is he?
Mr Netanyahu, or “Bibi”, as Donald Trump lovingly referred to him during his US visit last week, has been travelling to countries such as America and the UK to bolster international support after the UN condemned Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements. But why all the hubbub?
What the heck do they mean by “illegal settlement”? Palestine? Does that even exist?
Let’s start from the top: Mr Netanyahu has been Israel’s Prime Minister since 2009 and also served from 1996 to 1999. He was the first Israeli PM born in the country (founded in 1948) and the youngest to take the position. He shares, with the nation’s founder David Ben-Gurion, the record for most terms in power and is leader of the Likud party.
He’s served in the Israel Defence Force and seen plenty of action, from the Yom Kippur War to operations in the Sayeret Matkal, a special forces unit similar to the SAS. He left the military with the rank of captain and studied at MIT before becoming Israel’s ambassador to the UN then became leader of Likud in 1993. He’s done it all and, more than likely, seen it all. He’s even copped a bullet in the shoulder for his country.
So you may be thinking “Wow, he’s pretty cool! He must be pretty popular, he obviously has to have good things going for him.” Which in a sense is true. You have to be good to get re-elected three times, complete two degrees in science, and be a leader in the Sayeret Matkal. The issues only come about when you look at the guy’s human rights record (hint: it’s not good).
To understand why many people don’t like him we need to look at the political and social mire in which Israel is stuck. Israel is a relatively young country, formed after World War II as a direct consequence of the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish people fled Europe to stake out a life in a better country, and where better to go than the promised land of Israel? The land of Abraham, Joshua, Jacob and his 12 sons… Many Jews had already migrated to the area and set up their own communities.
Problem is, the area was already designated Palestine, under the jurisdiction of the British and boasting a large population of native Palestinians. Cue the foundation of Israel in 1948, several morally ambiguous wars and repeated annexation of territory … and we arrive at the present day.
Palestine still exists despite not being universally recognised as an independent state (many nations do recognise it, but Israel chucks a hissy fit every time someone does) and remains a thorn in the side of Israel because it lays claim to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. These small swathes of land, having seen their fair share of bloodshed, are currently occupied by Israel.
Does Israel really have a claim there?
There’s a huge amount of conjecture and discourse on just who the bloody hell is entitled to lay claim to the land because the place has changed hands so many times under dubious circumstances, from Babylonia to the Romans to the Abbasids and so on – which all contributes to the mess that is the question: “Does Israel really have a claim there?”
Which brings us to dear Bibi.
Mr Netanyahu is in full support of a method of effectively reclaiming and annexing Palestine’s West Bank and East Jerusalem under which Palestinian homes are forcibly taken and bulldozed to make way for new housing so Israelis can “settle” in the area. The settlements have displaced many Palestinians who now face extreme hardship including having their basic amenities cut off at a moment’s notice. The UN Security Council has condemned the Israeli action as a breach of the Palestinians’ human rights and many individual UN member countries have joined in a chorus of disapproval.
But Mr Netanyahu has done his friend Donald proud by tweeting his support of the settlements:
סיכמתי עם שר הביטחון על בנייה נוספת של למעלה מ-3,000 יחידות דיור חדשות ביהודה ושומרון
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 31, 2017
Translation: “I agreed with Minister of Defence on further construction of over 3000 new housing units in Judea and Samaria.” (Judea and Samaria is Israel’s preferred name for the West Bank.)
Of course the blame does not sit solely with Mr Netanyahu; it is the wider Knesset (the Israeli parliament) that sanctions all this.
So now you’re either thinking, “Yeah, okay, he’s a bit of a dick hey” or “Oh shut up you lefty cuck” (and that last one’s fair, I’m every bit a… actually let’s not go there right now).
Of course, to give him the benefit of the doubt, Mr Netanyahu does promote a sort of relationship with Palestine, but mainly one whereby Israel maintains control dressed up nicely in what is called the One-state solution. The idea of a two-state solution, or Palestinian sovereignty, is something Bibi scoffs at. He immediately shut the idea down when it was raised in a press conference with Malcolm Turnbull today.
Netanyahu: What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? … A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?
— Stephanie Anderson (@stephanieando) February 22, 2017
I’m trust this is giving you a clearer picture of the type of man Netanyahu is. He was Trump before Trump was Trump.
Exhibit A, referencing the wall to keep out “Mexican rapists”:
President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea 🇮🇱🇺🇸
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 28, 2017
What a pleasant little man. – Matthew Buchanan
Top photo from Malcolm Turnbull’s twitter feed.