50 most influential Jews: Benjamin Netanyahu

The most powerful Jewish voice in the room.

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Jerusalem Post has put together its annual list of '50 most influential Jews' who have impacted the world last year, and have the potential to affect change in years to come.
No Jew in the world has more impact and influence on global events than the Israeli prime minister; any prime minister. It comes with the job.
All other Jewish politicians, writers, musicians, scientists and economists strutting the world’s stage – as talented and important as they may be – do not have near the power or influence of an Israeli prime minister.
By his words fighter planes are dispatched; by his words peace treaties are signed.
There is no more influential a pulpit for the Jewish people than the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. And an argument can be made that no Israeli prime minister has better understood or recognized the power of that pulpit to impact events and sway opinion than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, upon being named by The Jerusalem Post as this year’s most influential Jew in the world, agreed to a brief interview to discuss it. But then the coalition-building turmoil intervened, and the interview was moved day after day. When it became clear a face-to-face interview would not be possible, Netanyahu agreed to answer written questions. Nine were submitted, and he responded to five.
Of those he left unanswered were who he thinks is the most influential Jew alive, and whether he feels God placed him in his position for a particular reason.
The Post named you the most influential Jew in the world, Time magazine named you on its list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and Forbes recently placed you at No. 26 among the 72 most powerful people on the planet. What have you done with that influence, and – ideally – what do you want to do with it?
Any influence I have is due to the trust that the citizens of Israel have placed in me. I take this awesome responsibility with the seriousness it demands. I am responsible for protecting Israel’s citizens from the many real threats that are out there in a very unstable Middle East.
The greatest threat we face remains Iran developing nuclear weapons. For many years I have worked to raise awareness internationally about the dangers Iran’s nuclear program poses not just to Israel but to the region and to the entire world.
Now we are entering a critical period where the leading powers of the world might make a terrible deal with Iran that will threaten our future. I have a responsibility to raise the alarm about this potential danger and to ensure that Israel is always in a position to defend itself by itself against any threat.
I will also try to move forward in a responsible manner towards peace with our Palestinian and other Arab neighbors.
I have great responsibilities on the domestic front as well: continuing Israel’s free-market revolution, which I have championed and advanced for two decades; ensuring that Israel remains a global technological power by strengthening Israel’s advantages in emerging fields like cyber.
We must also give fair and equal opportunities to all Israelis, such as ensuring that Israelis of Ethiopian origin are fully integrated into all aspects of our society, and addressing the high prices of real estate so that young people starting out have a better chance to get their first home. And we need to better integrate our Arab citizens into our robust economy and society. I am committed to all that.
When you boarded the plane to address Congress in March, you gave voice to the way you perceive your role by saying that you were going to represent the entire Jewish people. Some Jews in the US, and elsewhere, took issue with that, saying “Netanyahu doesn’t speak for me on this.” What’s your response to that?
It’s true that I am elected by the citizens of Israel only. But as the democratically elected prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, I have a unique responsibility to speak up for the Jewish people as a whole.
It was only seven decades ago that the Jewish people were stateless and voiceless, begging others to speak out for us. Today we are free and sovereign in our historic homeland. Today we have a voice among the nations.
When Jews are in danger, I will use that voice. Does that mean that all Jews everywhere will always agree with me? Of course not. But from its onset Israel was the fulfillment of the dream of ages for the Jewish people to regain their sovereignty in their historic homeland. I have been elected and reelected among other things to give voice to the concerns of the Jewish people.
You have said repeatedly that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people. We are on the eve of Shavuot, and God’s giving the Torah to the Jews. Do you believe God would allow the destruction of the Jewish people?
I believe that both our history and our heritage teach us that we must do what is necessary to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, and that there is no Jewish future without the Jewish state.
Zionists across the spectrum – religious, traditional and secular – all agree that Zionism is about Jews taking charge of our national destiny. We are guided by our millennia-old belief in the return of the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland, but we are also called upon to do everything in our power to ensure the survival of our state.
I mentioned Forbes put you – the leader of a country of 8 million people – as the 26th most powerful person in the world. You are ahead of the leaders of far bigger and wealthier states like Brazil, South Korea and Japan, let alone UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and US president Bill Clinton. Yet with your slender majority in the Knesset, you’ll be unable to leave the country while it is in session lest the government loses its majority. What does that say about us, and about you?
Israel punches above its weight. We are only some 8 million people on one of the geographically smallest countries on the planet. Yet Israel is a world leader in science and medicine, in agriculture and irrigation, in sustainable development and green energy, in cyber and defense. We have harnessed the talents of the Jewish people and of all our citizens to turn our country into a global powerhouse of creativity and innovation.
The current narrow majority doesn’t reflect the will of the citizens of Israel who wanted a broad government of the center- Right. This is a result of political machinations. To avoid such distortions in the future we need to reform our political system. Nevertheless, we have had governments with narrow majorities in the past that have made some very important decisions, and this will be the case now.
What historical personality has had the most influence on you? What person in your lifetime has had the most influence on you?
In my office are the photographs of both Herzl and Churchill.
Obviously, they were very different leaders, but they share something important in common. Both saw an emerging threat and called for timely action to meet it. Herzl foresaw the ferocity of modern anti-Semitism. Churchill recognized the threat posed by Nazi Germany. Both were dismissed as alarmists. But both were right. Correctly identifying the threats we face and effectively addressing them in the face of conventional wisdom is the foremost challenge of leadership.
What do you want to be remembered for?
For making the Jewish state and the Jewish people more secure, and this in a time when the region is in the greatest turmoil.
For mobilizing international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and doing everything in my power to prevent a regime that calls for Israel’s destruction from developing the weapons to achieve that goal.
For advancing a durable peace with our Palestinian and other Arab neighbors. For liberalizing Israel’s economy to unleash the limitless potential of our people.
For growing Israel’s economy, expanding the workforce and providing the means to help the most vulnerable in our society.
For ensuring that Israel has a national infrastructure fit for the 21st century. For strengthening the bonds between Israel and Jews around the world. For helping make Israel a place of which its citizens and Jews around the world can be truly proud.
Above all, for fulfilling my sacred responsibility to secure the future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.