Full disclosure: In confronting the weighty task of choosing the Jew who is most influential in the world, a four-member Jerusalem Post committee reluctantly named in first place Israel’s prime minister, “King Bibi” – as Time magazine crowned him on a recent striking cover.
Reluctant not because it isn’t well deserved, but rather because we had hoped to surprise readers, stun them with a figure whose “ability to fashion the face of the future” blew them out of the water.
But there is no contest. No other Jew can lead us down a path of war or peace – not even No. 2 on our list, Jack Lew, US President Barack Obama’s chief of staff – and is listened to more intently by world leaders, or has the potential to shape the Jewish world’s and the Jewish state’s future more than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In a time when tyrants and regimes are falling and revolution is in the air, the Middle East’s only democracy is thriving economically under the steadfast leadership of Netanyahu, 62, whose political savvy helped him consolidate his power this month when he created the first-ever unity government during peacetime in Israel’s history, solidifying a whopping 94- seat coalition. Given his Knesset maneuvering, pundits argue that Netanyahu easily has the parliamentary support to order a strike on Iran or make peace with the Palestinians.
After much brainstorming and consulting with editors, reporters and readers on Jpost.com to create our list of the top 50 most influential Jews, we reached the conclusion that our prime minister is not merely a powerful Jew; he is one of the most powerful players on the world’s stage, a voice for peace, tolerance and security.
In sounding the alarm before the US Congress and the UN on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and uranium enrichment facility in an underground facility near Qom, and successfully lobbying for US- and European- supported sanctions against Iranian banks, oil, trade and technology, Netanyahu has convinced the international community that if the Islamic Republic should successfully develop a nuclear weapon, it would not just pose a threat to Israel, which it has threatened to wipe off the map, but to the entire Western world.
In his impassioned speech at the American Israel Political Affairs Committee Policy Conference in March, Netanyahu showed himself to be a true defender of the Jewish people (“I will never gamble with the security of the State of Israel,” he said), a guardian of global security and a strong believer in democracy.
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“From the beginning, the Ayatollah regime has broken every international rule and flouted every norm,” he told the crowd of 13,000.
“It has seized embassies, targeted diplomats. It sends its own children through minefields; it hangs gays and stones women; it supports Assad’s brutal slaughter of the Syrian people; it is the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism.”
The leader to stand up and rally world attention to the facts on the ground – that a nuclear weapon getting into the hands of an unpredictable, evil government that has threatened to destroy “Big Satan” and “Little Satan” – cannot be tolerated. If sanctions don’t work, Netanyahu is not afraid of the military option, and largely because of Netanyahu’s urging, the US has agreed that no option is off the table.
Netanyahu has received harsh criticism for the parallels he has drawn between Hitler and Ahmadinejad and for calling on the world not to stand by like it’s 1938, and politicians, former security officials and nuclear experts have called into question his warnings that Iran is reaching nuclear status. But his influence is so great that the comparison now is indelibly printed in our collective consciousness.
Though negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appear to be at their usual stalemate after position letters were exchanged, there is reason to believe that a right-wing leader like Netanyahu could be what the world has been waiting for, the one to get a Palestinian state established and extricate Israel from much of the West Bank.
After all, Abbas told the Tunisian parliament this month that he chooses Netanyahu to be his “partner for peace” and the prime minister told Time in its May 28 cover story that he “can make peace happen” if Abbas negotiates directly with him and the Palestinians can figure out how to make democracy work.
Feeling secure in his parliamentary and public support – soaring over 50 percent – perhaps Netanyahu is confident enough to take risks and make sacrifices, while never neglecting Israel’s security. We wait to see whether he has the desire to achieve peace with the Palestinians, but are convinced of his power to preserve world peace.
Outside of the No. 1 slot, we tried in our very subjective list to consider the influence of Jews in a wide range of fields – from show business (No. 30, Mayim Bialik) to literature (No. 20, Jonathan Safran Foer) to the food industry (No. 31, Michael Pollan), and have included more women than ever before. We made an effort also to include as many new names as possible on this list, like Marvel comics creator Stan Lee (No. 37), and names that readers may be unfamiliar with, such as New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson (No. 3).
Some names may surprise you, like Peter Beinart (No. 10), whose book The Crisis of Zionism shook the American Jewish establishment this year.
We also pay tribute to those Jews who died over the past year and left behind a tremendous legacy – like children’s author Maurice Sendak and visionary Beastie Boy Adam Yauch – as well as those members of the tribe leading the world in technological, political and artistic innovations, like Russian-American singer Regina Spektor and Waze co-founder Ehud Shabtai.
We hope our list sparks debate and inspires you. Worthy individuals were inevitably left out, and we welcome your feedback, comments and criticism in talkbacks at Jpost.com and via letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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