Even during their long sojourn in exile, the Jews left an indelible imprint on the world. From Maimonides to Spinoza, Freud to Marx, Salk to Einstein, Jews have influenced every aspect of life.
But it took Zionism and the birth of the State of Israel to thrust the Jew back onto the world stage not as idea-maker, but as political player. Only with the creation of Israel did the Jews assert their influence on world events as major actors on center stage, not backstage managers, writers or scene designers.
Granted, Jews throughout history played some key political roles – think Benjamin Disraeli or Henry Kissinger – but that was always in someone else’s play.
If Jews used to impact world affairs with their ideas, today – with the State of Israel – they do so by their actions. And there is no Jew alive who has greater influence on current international events than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Granted, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg influences how we interact, and Sheldon Adelson has more money, but Netanyahu – and the decision he and his government make – has the ability to alter history.
Need proof? Just consider the world’s near obsession with the question of whether Israel will attack Iran to keep it from getting nuclear weapons. The consequences of that decision will ripple through everything, from the US elections in November, to the price of oil in China, to – perhaps – the safety and security of the world.
Zuckerberg is important, Adelson is rich, but no Jew really holds a candle to the influence that the 62-year-old Netanyahu – by virtue of his position as the leader of the sovereign Jewish state, a position he solidified recently by significantly expanding his government – wields over world affairs.
Netanyahu, a student of Zionism and of history, understands well the transformation the Jewish people has undergone since the advent of Israel, and even since the dawn of Zionism.
Ideally, he says during a conversation with The Jerusalem Post discussing the paper’s decision to name him the world’s most influential Jew, he would like to use his enormous influence “to ensure the security and future of the Jewish state, which I believe ensures the security and future of the Jewish people.”
The long sweep of Jewish history, he acknowledges, impacts on his day-to-day decision-making “on those matters that have pivotal importance.” Iran, and how to ensure it does not obtain nuclear weapons, is obviously one such pivotal matter.
Netanyahu does not dispute those who say he sees it as his historic mission to prevent another Holocaust.
No one would doubt that the threat to annihilate the Jewish people, at least that part of the Jewish people congregated in the Jewish state, is real, Netanyahu says.
“This is not an imaginary fixation of mine or anyone else’s,” he declares. “You can hear it directly from the leaders of the Iranian regime, and you can see the actual steps they are taking to create the weapons of mass destruction for that end. That is what is similar between today and previous ages where the hatred of the Jews permeated parts of humanity.”
But the difference between the ages, he continues, “is that today we have a state to protect ourselves. This is what has changed and been transformed in the Jewish condition.
For generations we were totally helpless against this kind of incitement, hatred and violence. Today we are not helpless.”
Netanyahu says the overall task of ensuring the Jewish people’s “odyssey through time” continues unabated. And, he adds, making sure the Jewish people grows “even more prosperous, numerous and more secure is the job of each generation, and those who lead it.
“I am very happy to represent Israel and the Jewish people on the world stage,” he says. “Our people have had our share of miracles, but there is only a finite number of miracles that history will provide even a believing people. So we have to make sure that we protect our present and our future, and that to me is the supreme task of any prime minister of Israel.”