Benjamin Netanyahu and American Presidents

September 19, 2023 | Tevi Troy
About the author: Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. In 2001, he served as the first director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives at the Department of Labor. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump

Yesterday, the Israeli prime minister arrived in San Jose, California for a six-day visit to the U.S., which includes a meeting with Joe Biden at the United Nations on Wednesday. Biden is the seventh president in office since Benjamin Netanyahu came to work at the Israeli embassy in Washington in 1982. Drawing on Netanyahu’s recent autobiography, Tevi Troy dimensions his relations with these American leaders:

Vladimir Jabotinsky believed that making one’s case forcefully and persistently in a democratic society is the best way to bring about preferred policy outcomes. Bibi Netanyahu turned the idea into a reality.

During the Clinton administration, Netanyahu rose to prime minister after winning a 1996 election to replace acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres following the assassination of Yitzḥak Rabin. To say that Clinton and company were disappointed at the result is an understatement. Clinton actively tried to have Netanyahu defeated in the election, but, he later admitted, “I tried to do it in a way that didn’t overtly involve me.” Clinton hadn’t fooled anyone. When Netanyahu next came to the White House, Clinton remembered that Netanyahu “wanted me to know that he knew I wasn’t for him and he beat us anyway.”

In April 2002, [President George W.] Bush demanded that Israel withdraw its troops engaged in Jenin and Shechem/Nablus operations to stop the terrorist bombings of the second intifada. With Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s blessing, Netanyahu flew to Washington and spoke to a bipartisan group of senators. “I am concerned that the imperative of defeating terror everywhere is being ignored when the main engine of Palestinian terror is allowed to remain intact,” he told them. Netanyahu’s words packed a punch in a Washington still focused on responding to 9/11 terror attacks. The Bush administration returned to its statements that Israel should be allowed to defend itself, which took the pressure off and gave Israel room to maneuver. Once again, Netanyahu had used the Jabotinsky method of developing public pressure to help lead to a desired policy outcome.

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