As we saw when he gifted Pope Francis with a unique history of the Spanish Inquisition, Benjamin Netanyahu chooses his books with care. So when the Prime Minister posts a photograph of his home library–during a visit by Secretary of State John Kerry this past week–it’s worth taking a closer look. What Netanyahu reads can tell us much about what Netanyahu thinks. (You can look at high-quality version of the picture above here.)
So, what’s on Bibi’s bookshelf? A Hebrew copy of the Tanakh and the New Testament–תורה נביאים כתובים ובהברית חדשה–for starters. Netanyahu has always taken a strong interest in Israel’s non-Jewish backers, and regularly addresses its Christian supporters, so it’s no surprise that he might sometimes brush up on his Christian biblical references. The Prime Minister also clearly has a taste for biographies of noted Zionists: Walter Isaacson’s Einstein, Michael Bar-Zohar’s Ben Gurion, and Yemima Chovav’s Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl are all on the shelf–and, more importantly, show signs of having actually been read.
Another well-represented genre that will not surprise veteran Bibi-watchers is the work of Winston Churchill. Not only does Netanyahu have two biographical studies of the British Prime Minister (Paul Johnson’s Churchill and Michael Makovsky’s Churchill’s Promised Land, on his evolving attitude towards Zionism), but he has six volumes of Churchill’s collected writings and speeches. Netanyahu is fond of citing Churchill–the despised prophet of World War II who was vindicated by history–and has done so in interviews and at the United Nations. Having been warning the world about Iran’s nuclear aspirations for decades, the Israeli Prime Minister feels an apparent kinship with the man who warned of an impending threat to Western civilization in the face of ridicule–an affectation for which he is admired as prophetic by his supporters and derided as self-important by his detractors.
Another interesting addition is a Hebrew translation of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics. As Israel’s Finance Minister from 2003 to 2005, Netanyahu enacted a host of free market reforms, many based in the Chicago school of economics, of which Sowell is a disciple. Rounding out the collection (at least, those books visible in the photograph) are Antony Beevor’s The Second World War and an account of the Eichmann trial written by its chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner.
Finally, no Netanyahu bookshelf would be complete without Self-Portrait of a Hero, the collected letters of Bibi’s brother Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed while leading Israel’s successful hostage rescue at Entebbe in 1976. On a lower shelf, a photograph of Bibi with his brother is clearly visible. Yoni’s story has deeply impacted his younger brother, and as U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro attests, “They [Netanyahu and Kerry] have spoken about Yoni z”l many times.”