Monday, June 14, 2021

Fmr. Ambassador Michael Oren on Netanyahu

3:25 into the video 

Natasha Kirtchuk: I would like to turn to Netanyahu, and basically his legacy. In your opinion, has Netanyahu left Israel better off than when he first came to power as prime minister, and what were his major accomplishments, where did he fail? 

Michael Oren: Well, Benjamin Netanyahu was a transformative prime minister. He marshaled in Israel’s transformation from being a largely middle class, even lower middle class agrarian society to a high tech society, a super power economically in terms of innovation, in terms of even military power. He diversified our foreign policy. He opened up the doors to China to Russia, to Africa, to South America that did not exist before. He presided over the signing of the Abraham Accords which in itself was revolutionary. 

People don’t know this about Netanyahu, he is actually very war-adverse. He kept us out of major conflicts and the truly large-scale conflict we had was in 2006 in the Lebanon war which was under the prime ministership of Ehud Olmert. Netanyahu does not like war, he kept us out of it. We may miss him on that, by the way, in the future.  Many, many aspects. In legislation, about 32 pieces of legislation that lifted up regulatory restrictions, opened up the Israeli economy, so in effect he transformed Israel, making Israel the number one country in the world in terms of the percentage of its GDP that is invested in innovation.  Much of that is Netanyahu’s. Netanyahu’s  the finance minister, Netanyahu’s  the prime minister.  


So yes, I think history will judge leaders differently fifty years, a hundred years from now. Remember that looking back at Truman in the 1940s, people did not like Truman, whereas today he is viewed as one of America’s greatest presidents. I remember Menachem Begin, how many Israelis hated, hated Begin and today everyone thinks of Begin with great nostalgia, sort of wistfully. So people will judge Netanyahu differently. A lot of it depends, Natasha,  on the way he exits his office. If he exits as previous prime ministers, Yitzhak Shamir, acknowledging the legitimacy of the Israeli political system of Israeli democracy, or if he follows the precedent of Donald Trump. I think that will determine to a large degree the way his legacy is viewed by future generations.