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By: Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay.
(Exclusively for al-Zaytouna Centre).


Sigmund Freud’s[1] theories in psychoanalysis in general can be considered the basis of the psychoanalytic studies of political leaders, even if they have different political orientations and are of diverse social, cultural, political and economic environments.

Harold Lasswell[2] and Victor Wolfenstein[3] are considered the most prominent in applying Freud’s theories on the psychology studies of political leaders. Lasswell divided political leaders into three types: agitators, who are narcissists, cling to their ideological convictions and tend to be very attracted to the masses; administrators, who make their personal desires of a general nature and focus on achievement; and theorists, who are dominated by doubts, scrutinize details and have a constant tendency to knowledge as a result of the depth of their doubts about everything.

Wolfenstein focused on the Oedipus complex of the revolutionary personality, but relied in his analysis on the model of Erik Erikson,[4] when he divided life into eight stages: oral, anal, genital, latency, adolescence, young manhood, adulthood and maturity. When studying a leader, each stage is focused on, while studying its most important features, for example, in the breastfeeding stage, the duration of breastfeeding, satisfaction, etc, are studied; or in the anal stage, developing illnesses such as constipation during childhood or infancy are studied, and so on.

The first stages are of utmost importance because they establish the building of personality and the mechanisms of personality adaptation to the developments of the later stages; and they are limited to the first five years of a child’s life.

The significance of these studies lies in the fact that they help to understand, as much as possible, the psychological background of the leader’s reactions to the complexities of political life, and thus predict how he will face such situations in the future. However, it should be noted that the more institutional the political system, the less the influence of the individual leader whereas in non-institutional systems in which an individual or a limited number of individuals take over the decision-making process, the usefulness of psychoanalysis is greater in terms of predictability. [5]

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>>Academic Paper: The Psychological Studies of the Personality of Benjamin Netanyahu … Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay (18 pages, 1.4 MB)

Aims and Objectives

This research attempt aims to draw attention to the need of studying the psychological aspects of the leaders of Israel as there are very few such studies in the Arab political literature. The incorporation of such studies into the prediction matrix of Israel’s political behavior makes awareness of its policies more accurate. In this sense, the study carried out by a group of American psychologists of the personality of former US President Donald Trump, before he came to power, represents the latest example of the importance of these studies, due to its academic credibility.[6]

In this study, we shall examine the personality of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, based on several Israeli and Western psychological studies, and then define the points of congruence among these studies, which will be the basis for predicting his future orientations.

Analysis Methodology

Given the large amount of information about the psychological dimensions of Netanyahu’s personality, we will try to integrate them into five dimensions: [7]

First: The pillars of his psychological structure.

Second: The impact of the psychological structure on Netanyahu’s personality.

Third: His functional features.

Fourth: His leadership style.

Fifth: The impact of his psychological structure on his behavior in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The analytical model adopted in most of these studies is the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.[8]

This model focuses on the “repetitive behavior” of the individual, by monitoring and measuring a list of personal dimensions based on three foundations, which are thoughts, feelings and actions. This is done after collecting information about the personality, then classifying them, and finally analyzing them.

Information about Netanyahu’s personality in these studies was derived from Netanyahu’s writings, academic studies about his personality, press articles and interviews published in Israeli newspapers between 1985 and 2020, in addition to information transmitted by employees who have worked with him, especially his advisors. The academic materials have been divided based on two dimensions: the content (the central idea and its significance), and the quality of information related to five aspects: the development of personality throughout the stages of life, the relationship with the family, his career practice, his leadership style and his personal qualities. The number of indicators measured and studied has varied between the different studies of Netanyahu’s personality, reaching 22 indicators in some of them, such as the studies of Shaul Kimhi, who traced Netanyahu’s personality during two periods extending from the end of the 1990s to 2017, during most of which he was prime minister. [9]


Based on the above mentioned methodology and analytical model, and by comparing the studies mentioned in the list of references at the end of this study, we will focus on the central features agreed upon among all these studies; then we will present some events and details of Netanyahu’s public and private life, which would reveal these central features of his personality. The study shall be a basis for the researchers, enabling them to integrate this aspect into the prediction matrices of Israeli behavior in general, and Netanyahu’s behavior in particular.

First: The Pillars of Netanyahu’s Psychological Structure

Psychologists believe that there are events in everyone’s life, representing the background that largely controls his general behavior. While he may be aware of these facts, he might not be aware of their implications in shaping his personality. At other times, these facts are embedded in the individual’s “unconscious,” especially the developments in his early stages of life. Notably, it is not easy to link his later actions with those unconscious realities except through the method of psychoanalysis and the mechanism of free association.

When reviewing congruent points in the studies on Netanyahu, we find four dimensions, which left their mark and shaped his public and private behavior:

1. Parents: Benjamin Netanyahu was born in 1949 to a Polish man, Benzion Mileikowsky, whose father Nathan (Benjamin’s grandfather) was a rabbi. However, Benzion was a secularist and one of the most senior aides to the Zionist extremist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. He called for the displacement of Palestinians outside Palestine so it would remain a pure Jewish state, and he changed his Polish name to Netanyahu.

Yet, this father, who was a historian, was frustrated by his inability to integrate with the American society, and was also unable to find work to satisfy his ambitions, even though he taught at Cornell University. Benzion was a right-wing Zionist, who specialized in Judaic history, and was an expert in the history of Jews in Spain. He believed in “Greater Israel.” But, after his application for an academic post at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was turned down, he moved again to the US and bore bitter grudges throughout his life against the Labor Party and the intellectual elites in Israel.

The father implanted in his children the idea that everyone is “his enemy.” This idea left its profound effects on Benjamin at an early age, and he began to see that the conspiracy existed everywhere and that the world was very cruel. Also, the father implanted in his children the idea that there was no place for altruism or philanthropy or true friendship, and that humans live in constant Darwinian struggle for survival.

Benjamin also imbibed from his father the feeling that he was an outsider in the political establishment, and he felt at first that he was isolated despite his distinction (according to what he believed). Thus, he considered all his political colleagues his rivals, and he even took revenge on those who opposed him.

The depth of Netanyahu’s belief in the Darwinian perspective might explain his belief that the majority of Arabs, including those in the 1948 occupied territories, pose an existential threat to Israel. This idea (the existential threat) has even expanded to include the pillars of the whole world. It is among the most frequently repeated ideas, based on the analysis of his speeches, statements and his writings. The central ideas in his knowledge system are as follows:

a. Considering Israeli security under threat from all sides.

b. Palestinian “terrorism.”

c. Anti-Semitism.

d. The Iranian threat and Hizbullah.

e. The hostility of the United Nations to Israel.

f. Reminding of the Nazi Holocaust.

g. Europe’s failure to understand the “threat” to Israel.

Special psychological studies believe that all of these ideas, most frequent in Benjamin’s speeches, are the result of the what his father instilled in his mind that “the whole world hates us.” Accordingly, any criticism of Israel is part of “the world hates us.”

When moving to the role of his mother, Celia, who was married to Noah Ben Tovim before her marriage to Netanyahu, we find that her influence was in another aspect, which is training her children on “discipline and the exercise of strength.” She also implanted in them a sense of future success.

But the family as a whole was living under feelings of isolation, persecution and suspicion of those around them. Benjamin was the most inclined towards isolation and the constant pursuit of excellence (this appeared after his return to the US with the family and upon his return to Israel at the age of 18 to perform military service).

In sum, the parents implanted two issues in their son Benjamin: hatred of the other who is not Jewish, and the belief that conflict—in its Darwinian sense—is a normal phenomenon in this universe. Hence, the exercise of force against that other is a normal thing regardless of the “legitimacy of this force.” For history is made by “heavy shoes” according to Jabotinsky who had close ties with Benjamin’s father.

2. Elder brother: The father and mother of Benjamin gave their prime care to their eldest son Yonatan, and it is known that the father or the mother give priority to the care of the eldest son, which affects the brother, who comes next in order. If this eldest son became absent or ineligible, this prime care goes to the next son. This is what had actually happened with Benjamin, after his older brother was killed, while leading an Israeli division that went in 1976 to Entebbe in Uganda to rescue hostages from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. That event has had great impact on Benjamin who was studying in the US, but he invested his brother’s killing in three ways: the political exploitation of the event to achieve personal goals and advance on the political ladder, deepening the feeling of hatred for Arabs because they killed his brother, then confirming the idea of ​​his Darwinian perspective that survival is for the fittest.

3. Military life: Benjamin Netanyahu participated in many military attacks against Arab countries after the 1967 war (He participated in the Battle of Karameh in 1968, and in the attack on Beirut airport in the same year, as well as the war of attrition on the Egyptian front, and he almost drowned in the Suez Canal during his participation in an operation in which the Egyptians destroyed one of the boats of an Israeli military infiltration operation, along with a number of other operations in 1972). These had happened despite the fact that his father wanted his sons to join the diplomatic corps, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Netanyahu and his more extremist brother felt some contradiction in their father’s behavior, for he was a strong defender of Zionism but at the same time was determined to live in the US.

4. Emotional disorder: Tracking the marital life of Benjamin Netanyahu reveals a personality that does not see any shame in deception (as shall become clear later). His relations with his wives were dominated by infidelity, lying and defrauding the wife and society when he was exposed. This was confirmed in the corruption cases he is being prosecuted for, including “bribery, forgery, and breach of trust.”[10]

He married his first wife, Miriam Weizmann, a specialist in chemistry whom he met in Israel. Miriam travelled to the US to complete her studies while Netanyahu was there, and they married in the 1970s and had a daughter in 1978. Yet, during her pregnancy, Netanyahu got acquainted with a British girl, Fleur Cates, in the university library, and had an affair with her, which prompted his first wife to ask for a divorce. In 1981, Netanyahu married his mistress who announced her conversion to Judaism, but he divorced her after three years. He later met a flight attendant, Sara Ben-Artzi, whom he married and had two sons with.

Various studies agree that Sara, Netanyahu’s current wife, is known for her “erratic and sometimes unstable behavior,” as her relations with maids are almost rough and she has been sued by many nannies,[11] while her relations with Israeli newspapers are tense. Studies indicate in various places that she married Netanyahu while pregnant but did not inform him because she was planning to “hunt” him after realizing that he did not intend to marry her. As we shall see, her suspicions about him were further emphasized in 1993.

In all of the above, we must point out Netanyahu’s treacherous practices to his wives. While pregnant, his first wife discovered a blonde hair on his clothes, and she insisted on knowing its source. However, he dodged her, which led her to expel him from the house, and the matter ended in divorce. Yet, when she gave birth, he sent her a “flower bouquet” without visiting her.

In 1993, Sara received a phone call in which the speaker informed her that he had a video tape of Netanyahu betraying her with his public relations advisor, Ruth Bar. The anonymous call included a threat implying that unless Netanyahu withdrew from the Likud leadership race, the tape would be distributed to the press. When Netanyahu returned home, Sara confronted him with the call, so he gave up and cried in remorse then went on the Israeli television to admit in public that he had deceived his wife. Eventually, it turned out that there was no video tape of the incident, but Netanyahu realized the seriousness of the repercussions of his marital infidelity on his political future. Thus, before the “political mafia” that amazingly made the idea of ​​the tape was able to “blackmail” him, he managed, with tears on television during the prime time of talking about his infidelity, to influence the feelings of his supporters and to heal the wounds of the wife. Ultimately, this spoiled the plan of his opponents to prevent his accession to the leadership of Likud and prompted his wife Sara to describe Ruth Bar as “a depraved woman. She came on to my husband. You show me one married man who wouldn’t go along.”[12]

Researchers examining Netanyahu’s psychology believe that he deals with his wife Sara with patience and tolerance, despite their very weak emotional relation, and that his motive is his fear that this would affect his central goal, i.e., to remain the head of the Likud party.

Second: The Impact of the Psychological Structure on Netanyahu’s Personality

It is necessary to point out that this aspect focuses on the repeated behavior outside the family context, that is, the pattern of his relations with the political, societal and other environments. Studies have agreed on the following features:

1. Narcissism: [13] It is evident in the following indicators, which reflect great similarity with the analysis of the personality of former US President Trump. This partly explains the closeness and mutual praise between the two. The manifestations of narcissism in Netanyahu are as follows: [14]

a. His personal success is more important than ideological considerations.

b. He has delusions that he can perceive things more clearly than the others.

c. He has the tendency to exploit his workers for his own benefit.

d. It is hard to find him complimenting any idea suggested by others.

e. He does not distinguish between his private affairs and the public affairs, especially in politics.

f. He is often late to meetings, especially with leaders, and is indifferent to the effects of his behavior on others, although he is aware of the influence and the diplomatic implications of such behavior.

g. He accepts aid from any side, including those who disagree with him, if it serves his interest.

h. He insists to be at the forefront in any field, and does not easily give up on his ambition.

2. Aggression and evasion: Netanyahu is convinced that international relations are governed by the law of the jungle, and that he has the right to use any means to reach his goals. He does not hesitate to crush his opponents, even those with him in the party leadership. This feature has many indicators, most of which were mentioned by those who worked with him, especially his advisors, and they are:

a. The pre-emptive attack on party figures whom he feels might compete with him in the future, directly or indirectly.

b. He abandons his allies if he feels that they will affect his standing.

c. He uses his employees in tasks that might provoke negative public reactions. If they succeed, he continues with his orientations; if they fail, he will abandon them and deny his connection with them.

d. His bond with people depends on the extent of his immediate benefit from them.

3. Lack of credibility: He tends to lie and disavow any promises he makes to others. He is unreliable, perceives deception as acceptable in politics, has no remorse and seems “unconvincing” even when he is telling the truth.

The specialized references mentioned in the endnotes of this study have included a sufficient number of statements or leaks about Netanyahu lying and cheating on some leaders, such as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, all of whom confirmed on various occasions that he was lying or lied to them.

4. Pragmatic interpersonal relationships: His personal relationships are “utilitarian,” and he is not inclined to intimate relationships, in addition to being anti-social, withdrawn and unsympathetic to others. He does not establish relationships except with those who are deemed beneficial. He sees no harm in ending the relation if the benefit ends. Yet, this does not mean that he has no friends, but his friendships are “fast-ending.”

5. Suspicion: He is overwhelmed by the feeling of other people’s hostility to him and that he is a “victim,” while tending to interpret events as “against him” then generalize them to interpret them that they are against the whole society. He perceives his friends as “potential traitors,” which explains his constant inclination for reading, scientific follow-up and attention to details, exactly in accordance with Harold Laswell’s model in his division of political leaders. He was described by one of his advisors who said, “He is not a very rational person. He is very weak. He’s untrustworthy and very closed as a person. He has very few close friends. He hardly trusts anyone, not even his wife.” Another advisor said that Netanyahu “has a kind of inferiority complex from an early stage, who always tries to prove himself. There’s a lack of security in his personality. At the time I worked with him he often nearly made silly mistakes, and sometimes when we didn’t hold him back he actually made them.”

Third: His Functional Attributes

1. Work under pressure: Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior under pressure varies in terms of the situation he faces. If the source of pressure is known to him, he is in control, he is unlikely to improvise and he works on a number of alternative plans. He remains calm in such crises, deals directly with problems and focuses on the central issue. In these cases, he is overcome by the feeling of being able to control the situation even in difficult moments. He also showed in TV interviews a high ability to deal with difficult questions and direct discussions.

As for sudden circumstances, he is more subject to submission. (For example, when the assassination attempt on Khalid Mish‘al in Amman failed and Jordan arrested two Mossad members, he seemed to be very confused. He even was the one to suggest the release of Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, something which he would not do in a normal situation).

He also hates routine work, however when he encounters an intractable crisis he exhibits somatic reactions. He does not recognize such complications and suppress them, causing him pain, especially in the stomach.

2. Cognitive performance: He is intelligent, has a strong memory and high analytical ability, a knowledgeable reader who tends to support his opinion with quotes by thinkers and prominent figures. His charisma and inspiring speeches can influence whoever listens to him and he has the ability to persuade, especially with the English-speaking audience.

3. Leisure life: He is excessively inclined to luxurious life in all its aspects, especially in terms of travel, hiking, food and alcoholic drinks besides choosing very expensive resorts and hotels. After becoming prime minister, he tended to invest his position by requesting discounts from hotels or places he frequented, believing that his presence in these places served as a kind of “commercial advertisement” and he deserved to obtain benefit in return. Indeed, the fact that he and his wife brought their dirty laundry to the White House to be cleaned reinforces the idea of his investment of his political position to the greatest extent.[15]

Fourth: Leadership Style

1. Management and work style: He tends to work alone and does not prefer getting help from experts. He delegates some tasks to some of his assistants but is firm in management, has a sharp and undemocratic leadership tendency, does not consult others (except his personal advisors) and uses those who are subservient “yes-men.” He often makes conflicting promises and uses behind-the-scenes tactics, which contradict his promises (and he often describes his domestic opponents as Hizbullah).

2. His relations with the media: He has the ability to manipulate and employ the media, especially television.

3. Surprises greatly confuse him in making a decision: This is what we noted in the 1997 assassination attempt on Khalid Mish‘al in Jordan, which we mentioned above.

Fifth: His Stance on the Arab-Zionist Conflict[16]

The previous indicators show that Netanyahu’s hatred of Arabs is not different from his hatred of others. His religious and political perspective on the Palestine issue is based on:

1. Right of return for Jews.

2. It is unlikely that Arab hostility to Israel will end in the current generation.

3. The Arabs will not accept Israel except by force.

4. He is completely secular and does not see religion except through Jewish history.

5. His hatred of the Arabs is related to the strong influence of his father who was a senior aide to Jabotinsky. Hence, he tends to use force against others without any moral hindrance, based on an absolute Darwinian perspective. Also, the death of his brother in Entebbe, has reinforced his aggressive approaches and stances.

6. His tendency to lie, whether in his marital relations or in his dealings with leaders, indicates that his fulfillment of political promises is a secondary matter to him. His way of thinking shows that it is difficult to change his attitudes and convictions as he sees lying in politics is legitimate. This was emphasized as the Israeli State Comptroller mentioned in a report that Netanyahu has kept his senior ministers in the dark about the subterranean threat (Gaza tunnels) prior to the 2014 Gaza war. Added to his lies are the various dates he sets from time to time regarding the period when Iran will have nuclear bombs, relying on the weak memory of the public.

7. Given the depth of his doubts about everything, studies unanimously agree that he is unable to provide any solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Predictions Based on the Analysis

When analyzing Netanyahu’s personality, it is necessary not to overlook the role of political institutions in constraining some of the personality traits of a political leader, which depends greatly on the nature of the political system. Conversely, not including the personality of the leader in the analysis of a political system leads to a defect in the analysis. Therefore, it is necessary to combine the data contained in this study with the local, regional and international environment to reach more accurate results.

As for the psychological aspect of Netanyahu, indicators of his future behavior can be identified as follows:

1. He will not make strategic decisions regarding conflict resolution unless they support his continued tenure.

2. He will continue to pursue his project of a “Jewish state” and as Philosophy Professor Avishai Margalit has explained, the “cognitive dissonance” theory is being increasingly applied among such leaders as Netanyahu and among the Israeli electorate as they strongly believe that they live in a democratic state, but they greatly reduce the boundaries of democracy when it comes to the rights of Arabs in the 1948 occupied territories or even the Zionist left. They use cognitive tricks to justify their anachronistic colonial policies.

3. He will never tire of clinging to the Machiavellian logic in all forms of his familial, societal and international relations.

4. He has the ability and intelligence to escape from various dilemmas, but if he is exposed to sharp surprises, he is clearly confused and is unable to take the appropriate decision.

[1] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (New York: Bantam Books, 1960).
[2] Harold Lasswell, Psychopathology and Politics (New York: Viking Press, 1960).
[3] Victor Wolfenstein, The Revolutionary Personality: Lenin, Trotsky, Gandhi (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967).
[4] Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1963).
[5] For more details on the psychological studies of leaders, see Mostafa Rejai and Kay Phillips, World Revolutionary Leaders (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1983), pp. 21–42.
[6] Catherine Caruso, Psychiatrists Debate Weighing in on Trump’s Mental Health, site of Scientific American, 15/2/2017,
[7] To prevent the repetition of references when discussing every aspect of Netanyahu’s personality and behavior, and given the repetition of most information in these references, we provide below a list of the most important of these references:
a. Ofer Feldman and Linda Valenty (eds), Profiling Political Leaders: Cross-Cultural Studies of Personality and Behavior (Connecticut: Praeger, 2001), Chapter 9: Shaul Kimhi- Benjamin Netanyahu: A Psychological Profile Using Behavior Analysis, pp. 203–222.
b. Shaul Kimhi and Sagit Yehoshua, “Behavior Analysis of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999 and 2017: What has Changed?,” Annals of Psychiatry and Mental Health journal, vol. 5, issue 5, no.1111, 21/7/2017.
c. Matt Rees and Matthew Kalman, Psychobibi: Who is Israel’s Prime Minister and Why Does He Want to Fail (Kindle edition, 2013).
d. Jerrold Post, Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp.199–219.
e. Anshel Pfeffer, Bibi, The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu (London: C. Hurst and Co., 2018), Chapter 8.
Dr. Jerrold Post previously worked with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was the founding director of the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior. He played a pioneering role in developing the Camp David profiles of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat for President Jimmy Carter and had launched the US government program for the study of the psychology of terrorism. In recognition of his leadership at the Center, Dr. Post was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit in 1979. He received the Nevitt Sanford Award from the International Society of Political Psychology in 2002 for his distinguished professional contributions to political psychology. He testified before the Senate and the House on his political psychology profile of Saddam Hussein and the psychology of terrorism. He explained to the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations the psychology of weapons of mass destruction terrorism. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Deterrence in the 21st Century.
[8] About DSM-5, Site of American Psychiatric Association,
[9] Shaul Kimhi and Sagit Yehoshua, “Behavior Analysis of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999 and 2017.”
[10] Site of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 22/5/2020,
[11] Site of Reuters, 17/1/2010,
[12] Site of The Times of Israel, 10/4/2013,
[13] The Jerusalem Post newspaper, 29/3/2019,
[14] Site of NBC News Digital, 17/9/2019,
See for comparison: Catherine Caruso, Psychiatrists Debate Weighing in on Trump’s Mental Health.
[15] The Washington Post newspaper, 23/9/2020,
[16] The Guardian newspaper, 5/1/2013,
[17] Avishai Margalit, Views in Review: Politics and Culture in the State of the Jews (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998). This book deals with the psychological and social aspects of a number of Israeli personalities such as Netanyahu, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin.
[18] Festinger’s theory of “cognitive dissonance” is based on the central idea that when behavior or some data do not match with the intellectual or ideological convictions of an individual, he resorts to cognitive analyses to make his ideas “consistent” with those data. See details of the theory at: Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Redwood: Stanford University Press,1957).

Click here to download:

>>Academic Paper: The Psychological Studies of the Personality of Benjamin Netanyahu … Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay (18 pages, 1.4 MB)

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 6/3/2021

The opinions expressed in all the publications and studies are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of al-Zaytouna Centre.

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