Benjamin Netanyahu at the grave of his brother Yoni Netanyahu
, who was killed leading a counter-terrorist operation in 1976
Family and background
Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv, to Prof. Benzion Netanyahu (original name Mileikowsky) and Tzila (Cela; née Segal). His mother was born in 1912 in Petah Tikva, then in Ottoman Palestine, now Israel. Though all his grandparents were born in the Russian Empire (now Belarus, Lithuania and Poland), his mother's parents emigrated to Minneapolis in the United States. He is related to Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (the Vilna Gaon) on his paternal side.
Netanyahu's father, Benzion, was a professor of Jewish history at Cornell University, editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, and a senior aide to Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who remained active in research and writing into his nineties. Regarding the Palestinian people, he stated: "That they won't be able to face [anymore] the war with us, which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education, terminating electrical power and more. They won't be able to exist, and they will run away from here. But it all depends on the war, and whether we will win the battles with them."
Netanyahu's paternal grandfather was Nathan Mileikowsky, a leading Zionist rabbi and JNF fundraiser. Netanyahu's older brother, Yonatan, was killed in Uganda during Operation Entebbe in 1976. His younger brother, Iddo, is a radiologist and writer. All three brothers served in the Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit of the Israel Defense Forces.
Marriages and relationships
Netanyahu has been married three times. Netanyahu's first marriage was to Miriam Weizmann, whom he met in Israel. Weizmann lived near Yonatan Netanyahu's apartment in Jerusalem, where Netanyahu was based during his military service. By the time Netanyahu's service was finished, Weizmann had completed her own military service and a degree in chemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1972, they both left to study in the United States, where she enrolled in Brandeis University, while Netanyahu studied at MIT. They married soon afterward. The couple had one daughter, Noa (born 29 April 1978).
In 1978, while Weizmann was pregnant, Netanyahu met a non-Jewish British student named Fleur Cates at the university library, and began an affair. His marriage ended in divorce soon afterward, when his wife Miriam discovered the affair. In 1981, Netanyahu married Cates, and she converted to Judaism. The couple divorced in 1984.
His third wife, Sara Ben-Artzi, was working as a flight attendant on an El Al flight from New York to Israel when they met. She was in the process of completing a master's degree in psychology. The couple married in 1991. They have two sons: Yair (born 26 July 1991), a former soldier in the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, and Avner (born 10 October 1994), a national Bible champion and winner of the National Bible Quiz for Youth in Kiryat Shmona.
In 1993, Netanyahu confessed on live television to having had an affair with Ruth Bar, his public relations adviser. He said that a political rival had planted a secret video camera that had recorded him in a sexually compromising position with Bar, and that he had been threatened with the release of the tape to the press unless he quit the Likud leadership race. Netanyahu and Sara repaired their marriage, and he was elected to the leadership of Likud. In 1996, the media reported that he had a 20-year friendship with Katherine Price-Mondadori, an Italian-American woman. During the 1990s, Netanyahu criticized this media intrusion into his private life, claiming that political rivals including David Levy had hired spies to try to gather evidence of alleged affairs. The Israeli public are generally not interested in their politicians' private lives and would prefer they remained private.
On 1 October 2009, his daughter Noa Netanyahu-Roth (married to Daniel Roth) gave birth to a boy, Shmuel. In 2011, Noa and her husband Daniel had a second son named David, and in 2016 had a daughter. Noa is a baalat teshuva (someone born to a secular family who returned to Orthodox Judaism) and lives in Mea Shearim with her family.
Relations with foreign leaders
Netanyahu has a close relationship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, their having known each other for decades due to the privileged relationship between the Likud Party and the EPP, the European People's Party. Orban particularly admired Netanyahu while he was working as Finance Minister, and received advice from him while Netanyahu was Finance Minister of Israel.
Netanyahu has been noted for his close and friendly relationship with then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Netanyahu has said of Berlusconi: "We are lucky that there is a leader such as yourself." Netanyahu has described Berlusconi as "one of the greatest friends".
Netanyahu has a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, touting their "personal friendship" in April 2019.
During the 2011 G-20 Cannes summit, then French president Nicolas Sarkozy was overheard saying to then U.S. President Barack Obama, "I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar", and Obama reportedly responded, "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day."
Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump have known each other for many years. Netanyahu had been a friend of Donald Trump's father when Netanyahu lived in New York during the 1980s, serving as UN ambassador. In 2013, Trump made a video endorsing Netanyahu during the Israeli elections saying, "vote for Benjamin – terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel". In June 2019, Netanyahu officially renamed a settlement in the disputed Golan Heights after his "great friend" Donald Trump.
Netanyahu has close ties with the congressional leadership of the U.S. Republican Party and with its 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. He and Romney first became acquainted when both worked at the Boston Consulting Group in the mid-1970s. Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has been friendly with Netanyahu for many years. In November 2011 and in the 2012 U.S. vice presidential debate, Biden stated that the relationship has lasted for 39 years. Netanyahu remarked in March 2010 during a joint statement with Biden during his visit of Israel that their friendship had started almost three decades prior.
In October 2014, author Jeffrey Goldberg related a conversation in which Goldberg said a senior official of the Obama administration called Netanyahu a "chickenshit" after Netanyahu accused U.S. President Barack Obama of "acting contrary to American values". Goldberg went on to say that Netanyahu and his cabinet were largely to blame for the tensions between the Netanyahu and Obama governments. Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu to clarify that "such statements are disgraceful, unacceptable and damaging" and "do not reflect the position of the United States". Netanyahu responded by saying "I'm being attacked because of my determination to defend Israel's interests. The safety of Israel is not important to those who attack me anonymously and personally." Because of evident rifts between Netanyahu and members of the Obama administration, observers have characterized the relationship as having reached a crisis level by October 2014. The relationship between Netanyahu and the Obama administration had become problematic enough that Jeffrey Goldberg reported in November 2014 that his conversations with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials indicated Israel would wait until a new U.S. president is elected before attempting to repair the relationship with the White House. According to Alon Pinkas, a former diplomat and adviser to Israeli prime ministers, "Netanyahu’s self-righteousness that this resolution is going to be changed or reversed by Trump is totally unfounded."
On 23 December 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlements. In a departure from longstanding American policy, the U.S. abstained from the vote and did not exercise its veto power. At the behest of the Netanyahu government, President-elect Trump attempted to intercede by publicly advocating the resolution be vetoed and successfully persuading Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to temporarily withdraw it from consideration. The resolution was then "proposed again by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela"—and passed 14 to 0. Netanyahu's office alleged that "the Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes", adding: "Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution."
Netanyahu with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
in Jerusalem, 31 March 2019
In early 2018 the Polish parliament adopted a new Polish law criminalizing suggestions that Poles were collectively complicit in Holocaust-related or other war crimes that had been committed during World War II by the Axis powers. Later that year at the Munich Security Conference, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said "it is not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators (...) not only German perpetrators" implicated in the Jewish Holocaust. Netanyahu called his Polish counterpart's comment "outrageous" for saying that Jews had been among the Holocaust's perpetrators. The resulting crisis in Israel–Poland relations was resolved in late June that year when the two prime ministers issued a joint communiqué endorsing research into the Jewish Holocaust and condemning the misnomer "Polish concentration camps".
According to Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, during the visit of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Jerusalem, Netanyahu failed to publicly address Ukraine’s official policy of rehabilitating local Nazi collaborators like UPA leader Roman Shukhevych who had participated in the murder of Jews.
In March 2019, after being denounced by Turkey as a racist for saying that Israel was the nation-state of the Jewish people only, Netanyahu called the Turkish president Erdogan a dictator and mocked him for imprisoning journalists in a tweet. In response, Erdogan called Netanyahu as "the thief who heads Israel", referencing the ongoing corruption scandals against Netanyahu. In the same speech, Erdogan further escalated the spat by addressing to Netanyahu directly, saying "you are a tyrant. You are a tyrant who slaughters 7-year-old Palestinian kids."
Netanyahu has developed a close relationship with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro following Bolsonaro's election in 2018.
Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have tense relations. Netanyahu tweeted that "Erdogan is among Hamas's biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter." Netanyahu condemned the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria and warned against ethnic cleansing of Kurds by Turkey and its proxies.