Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with Mark Levin for an interview on "Life, Liberty & Levin."Netanyahu discusses going to high school and college in the U.S. and his four terms as Israeli Prime Minister.MARK LEVIN: Welcome to Life, Liberty and Levin. It’s an honor to...
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with Mark Levin for an interview on ‘Life, Liberty & Levin.’
Netanyahu discusses going to high school and college in the U.S. and his four terms as Israeli Prime Minister.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Is that it? Life, Liberty and Levin?
LEVIN: That’s it.
NETANYAHU: I’m glad to be here.
LEVIN: Emphasis on the Levin.
NETANYAHU: I got it.
LEVIN: Well, I’ve noticed, you’ve been here several days. Your relationship with the President of the United States seems to be very personal. (INAUDIBLE) it personal and how did it get that way?
NETANYAHU: It is. And it began that way, that’s the way it began. Can’t explain it. It’s just like that.
LEVIN: You have shared values and beliefs and that sort of thing?
NETANYAHU: Yeah, I think so. But there’s also a certain chemistry. I mean, the president likes to cut through —
NETANYAHU: I don’t want to call it noise. There are two initial, in English, you know. (LAUGHS) It just cuts right through it and it’s refreshing when we talk about (INAUDIBLE) it gets right to the point. And I appreciate it. Also I remember him, when I was an ambassador of Israel to the United Nations and he was a very prominent businessman in New York and we occasionally sort of bumped in the same circles, but we met years later and it’s been a direct and very positive relationship from the get go.
LEVIN: As a matter of fact, you served at the embassy here. And you’ve spent a little chunk of your life in America. In fact, you and I went to the same high school; not together, but the same high school, Chelvingham (ph) outside of Philadelphia.
LEVIN: Tell the American people, you know, your life in America. When did it start and where did it go?
NETANYAHU: Well, I came here for the first time I think when I was eight years old for about a year. Didn’t know a word of English. My father came here to edit the — he was a great professor, a great historian, but the way he made his living was that he edited encyclopedias, so he edited, they wanted him to edit the Great Jewish Encyclopedia, which he did for a year and then he said, it’s not good enough; I don’t want my name on it.
But during that year we lived in Manhattan and I came here, God, I didn’t know a word of English. It was bizarre and difficult for me. There was a girl they put next to me; her name was Judy. And I remember Judy, because she taught me English. She took out a book; it was a book of pictures. They had a dog. His name was Spot. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run. And Judy, believe it or not, and my dearly, well, my dear mother, they’re the ones who taught me English. So that was my first year, eight to nine.
And then I came back here from the age of 13 till the end of high school, and (INAUDIBLE). And that’s it. And then I went back to the army and came back to study at MIT.
LEVIN: You studied at MIT. You studied, what did you study?
NETANYAHU: First I studied architecture, then I went to the business school and got a, basically an MBA.
LEVIN: And you took a job in America?
NETANYAHU: Yeah, I went to work for about a year, at the Boston Consulting Group.
LEVIN: Is that where you met Romney?
NETANYAHU: Yeah. He was ahead of me. He was Star Manager, actually. You know the horrible thing about Mitt? He looks exactly the same (LAUGHTER) — he hasn’t changed.
LEVIN: His hair hasn’t moved.
NETANYAHU: Nothing has moved. (LAUGHS) He looked the same and it was a very good place where, to be honest, I mean I thought — that year that I spent there, in the presence of the founder of the Boston Consulting Group, was a real genius, he was a very eccentric genius. His name was Bruce Henderson. And I remember that I came in on the first day — never been to a business (INAUDIBLE) — you know, I spent five years in the army. I was an officer, I was a soldier and a commander in a Special Forces unit.
Went to MIT, finished my undergraduate, finished my building studies. Get into this consulting firm and the first day Bruce Henderson, who was a very imposing figure, must have been in his early 70’s, of Virginia — he told me, “Come inside; shut the door, sit down,” and he says, “You know, you’re not going to be here very long, because you’ll go back to your country. So study everything you can here, because one day it will help the state of Israel,” and I thought, this guy is bonkers. What is he talking about? Well, I’m 27 years old and he tells me to pick up what I can because it will help the state of Israel.
He was absolutely right. Because I learned something about how economies grow. They grow with the firms. The firms make the economy. You have to make it profitable for the firms to grow the economy.
LEVIN: Now what do we mean by “firms”?
NETANYAHU: Entrepreneurs. Business people. That’s what makes the economy grow — the guys who produce the added value of the private centers. The guys who consume (INAUDIBLE) is the public center. In order to have the things that the public center needs (ph) is like an air force or roads or things like that. Or other things. Okay? You need to have a robust, private center. I learned that, more than anywhere else, at the Boston Consulting Group.
LEVIN: And part of your career, in the Israeli government, has been on the financial side.
LEVIN: When my family and I came to Israel, the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem, the unification of Jerusalem. I saw all these cranes. I saw all this building going on. I saw these skyscrapers with names of American technological companies on them and so forth. Have you applied those policies as prime minister and so forth in Israel?
NETANYAHU: I will eventually fight fair (ph) and I’m a great believer in free markets and one of my missions, my two missions was to free up the Israeli market, Israeli economy, so that it becomes a free market economy — to unleash the genius that is embedded in our people. The sparks fly out the minute you open up the marketplace. You allow enterprise, innovation, risk to fail or succeed. And that’s (LAUGHS) a lot of reforms. I’ve been there. As prime minister and then subsequently a finance minister and then subsequently as prime minister again and again and again; still doing. So the Israeli economy has been growing under these reforms, consistently, at about, between four to five percent a year. And the GDP per capita will probably catch up with Japan in a couple of years, Israel.
LEVIN: Yeah, it’s a big deal.
NETANYAHU: Yeah, it’s a big deal.
LEVIN: Particularly in technology. There seems to be a huge growth in Israel. The amount of technology that is developing in your country, and yet it’s a tiny little country — and you sell it to, you know, you work for countries, massive countries like India and so forth — that’s obviously part of your plan. Right?
NETANYAHU: It’s very much my plan. It says (INAUDIBLE) technology by itself doesn’t do anything. You know, you want a country that has great scientists, great mathematicians, great physicists, great metallurgists — the Soviet Union — didn’t do anything. But if you took one of these guys, you know, smuggle them out, put them in Palo Alto, you know, within two weeks he was producing a lot of added value. He was producing wealth. So technology without free market doesn’t go anywhere.
Israel had the technology, but it didn’t have free markets. It had the technology because the military, especially military intelligence, produced a lot of capabilities that unless you opened it up, so people could start their businesses, these incredibly gifted young men and women who come out of the army or the Mossad, they want to start their startups. Well, they can’t. If you have to pay 70 percent tax, it’s not going to go anywhere. They’re going to go elsewhere.
So one of the things that I did the minute I became prime minister and then finance minister was to enact an enormous number of reforms, like several dozen reforms — that opened up the economy, reduced the tax rates, reduce spending and cut the bureaucracy. I had to — it was a big challenge, you know. How do you explain this to the people of Israel, you know? So I took about two weeks to format an economic plan and then I had to explain it to the public and I said this.
I described my first day in basic training in the paratroopers and the commander lines us up in a big field; the whole company and he says, “We’re now going to take, we’re going to do a special race. You,” he points at me, “Netanyahu, you pick up the guy next to you, put him on your shoulders. And the next guy, you put the guy next to you on your shoulders,” and so on. And I got a fairly big guy on my shoulders, about my size, and I could barely take two steps forward when he blew the whistle. The guy next to me was the smallest guy in the company and he got the biggest guy on his shoulders; he just collapsed on the spot.
And the third guy was the, was a big guy and he had a relatively small guy on his shoulders — he took off like a rocket and won the race. And I said in the international world, all national economies are paired of a public sector, sitting on the shoulders of a private sector. In our case, the private sector was collapsing under a public sector that got too fat. So we have to put the fat man on a diet and we have to give a lot of oxygen to the thin man below. That’s called tax relief. And we have to cut all these barriers to the competition, all these regulations that prevent that guy from running forward. This became known as the Fat Man Fitting (ph) Taxi Cab Drivers couldn’t recite it; they still couldn’t recite it. And that’s essentially what we ended up doing.
What I ended up doing was to trim the public sector, help the private sector and remove the barriers to competition, which I still have to do. I fight regulation with machetes, all the time.
LEVIN: In addition to the economy, I watch these votes in the U.N. I see the president of Guatemala. I see these leaders of India. And what I notice, observing Israel over the last several decades, you obviously have a big push going on where you want to take Israel’s case all over the world, including in our hemisphere in America, in Asia, India and so forth — is that born fruit? It appears to, at the U.N. and some other places.
NETANYAHU: Well, it’s certainly born fruit in international relations, because having, having reformed Israeli economy, we got the prowess of technological advance. Because technology with free market definitely works. And with the, you know, this amalgamation of Big Data, artificial intelligence and productivity, as well as creating industries out of thin air, literally out of thin air.
We have a car industry that’s autonomous vehicles. World leader. Between driving the (LAUGHS) world economy, cyber, you know, we’re a tiny fraction of one percent and we get 20 percent, 20 percent of the world investment in private cyber security — huge.
On the other side we have security. We have superb intelligence. We’ve foiled dozens of terrorist attacks. Of ISIS; major terrorist attacks. Including the downing of an airliner. You can imagine what that would be.
LEVIN: And for all countries, you share that information.
NETANYAHU: We share it, we not only do it for us, we share it with dozens of countries. We’ve prevented dozens of terrorist attacks, major terrorists attacks. So when you take security interests and intelligence, the countries out to protect themselves against terrorism, and that’s pretty much all countries, and you take the needs for technological innovation that is driving the world right now, both of them are present in Israel and so everybody wants them and that gives me the third thing, which is this massive flourishing of Israel’s diplomatic relations with just about every country in the world. Not all.
We’re not big on North Korea. You know. Not too big on Iran. But just about everyone else. And so this is a triangle. It’s economic power, security power, gives you diplomatic power. That will take a few years to translate itself into the votes of this archaic body called the General Assembly of the United Nations. Or some of the other bodies. That will take a while, until they get the news.
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