Bibi Netanyahu’s father, historian Benzion, passes away at 102

Condolences to the Netanyahu family. The grand patriarch has left behind quite a legacy.

Benzion Netanyahu was no doubt a very proud father. All three sons served in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando forces. The eldest, Yonatan, is a legend in Israel. In fact, the health clinic in my town here was dedicated in his honor. When you pass through the door you are greeted with the iconic photo of Yonatan.

Benjamin followed in his elder brother’s footsteps, and then went on to serve in various capacities of government. Israel’s economic wonder is due in large part to the reform and policies he enacted as Finance Minister between 2003-2006. Youngest son, Ido, also an ex-commando, is a radiologist and writer.

Benzion Netanyahu, a renowned historian who specialized in the history of Jews in Spain, and a professor emeritus at Cornell University, authored an epic history on the Spanish Inquisition and edited several Jewish encyclopedias. Benzion was witness to one of the most incredible centuries in history. Born in 1910 he saw it all – World War I, World War II, the birth of the State of Israel and all the wars fought for Her survival, to the current state of affairs, which will certainly prove every bit as chaotic as previous upheavals.

May he rest in peace, and may your family be comforted and your sons continue to make you proud.

Israel Hayom – Benzion Netanyahu, historian, Zionist activist and influential father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, died Monday in his Jerusalem home. He was 102.

His son, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, managed to visit him one last time on Sunday night.

The elder Netanyahu was scheduled to be laid to rest at 5 p.m. (Israel time) at the Givat Shaul (Har Hamenuhot) cemetery in Jerusalem in a public ceremony.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his father Benzion during a memorial ceremony for Yoni Netanyahu at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem in 2007.

Benzion Netanyahu was born Benzion Mileikowsky on March 25, 1910, in Warsaw, Poland. His father, Nathan, a rabbi, moved the family to Palestine in 1920 and changed its name to Netanyahu.

Professor Netanyahu was among the great historians of the Jewish people. In his research, he focused on the history of the medieval Spanish Jewish community and the history of Zionism. Among his books are a biography of Don Isaac Abravanel, a history of the Spanish Marranos (forced converts to Christianity who secretly continued to practice Judaism) and his major work, “The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain,” which received global acclaim. He also authored “The Founding Fathers of Zionism” about the lives of the founders of political Zionism – Leon Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Israel Zangwill and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Netanyahu was also an expert on anti-Semitism and a great supporter of Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who advocated Jewish military strength and the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. During his decades-long career, Netanyahu also edited the “Encyclopedia Judaica,” “The World History of the Jewish People” and the “Encyclopedia Hebraica.”

During the Second World War, Netanyahu lived in New York, where he served as one of the leaders of the Revisionist Zionist movement in the U.S.

In 1939, Netanyahu traveled to London to persuade Jabotinsky to relocate to the U.S., due to the belief it would be a rising global power and that it would be possible to mobilize support for the Jewish state from there. Jabotinsky died in 1940, shortly after their arrival in the U.S. Netanyahu continued to raise support for the Jewish state throughout the war and afterward.

He met with many U.S. Jewish leaders at the time, as well as with senators, congressmen, authors, poets and other dignitaries, including Dean Acheson and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Upon the establishment of Israel, he returned from the U.S. and moved with his young family to Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood. He dedicated himself to his research, with the help of his wife Tzila, a native of Petach Tikva who was his life partner for more than 50 years. In 1952, the Netanyahu family moved to its home at 4 Haportzim Street in Jerusalem, where he passed away early this morning.

Netanyahu and wife Sara during funeral.

Due to his academic career, Netanyahu’s family frequently moved between the U.S. and Israel. Netanyahu edited right-wing Jewish publications in the U.S. and earned a Ph.D in history from Dropsie College in Philadelphia. Later, he was a professor of Jewish history and Hebrew literature at the University of Denver and Cornell University, where he served as chairman of the department of Semitic languages and literature.

He was best known in academic circles for his research into the Spanish Inquisition against the Jews of Spain. His best known work was “Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain,” an opus in which he argued that the crackdown on Jews was driven by racial hatred rather than just religious zeal.

Netanyahu also disagreed with scholars who argued that the Marranos secretly kept practicing Judaism after being forced to convert. Instead, he believed those Jews were assimilationists and converted of their own volition, and that the Marrano myth was fostered during the Inquisition as an attempt to prove broader resistance.

Netanyahu and Tzila had three sons: Yonatan, Benjamin and Iddo, all of whom served in the same elite Israeli military commando unit. Yonatan, known as Yoni, commanded the Sayeret Matkal unit and was killed in action during a daring 1976 hostage rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda.

Following his death, the elder Netanyahu returned to Israel full-time. His middle son Benjamin, nicknamed Bibi, went into politics and was elected prime minister of Israel in 1996 and again in 2009. Iddo, the youngest of the three, is a radiologist and writer.

Netanyahu is believed to have had great influence over his son Benjamin Netanyahu’s politics and openly criticized him when his government made concessions toward the Palestinians.

Several analysts speculated that Benjamin Netanyahu was emotionally unable to sign off on a comprehensive peace deal with Israel’s Arabs neighbors as long as his father was still alive, a notion the prime minister dismissed as “psychobabble.”

In newspaper interviews late in life, Benzion Netanyahu was forceful in his skepticism of Middle East peace.

“The tendency to conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war,” he told the Maariv daily in 2009. “The Arab citizens’ goal is to destroy us. They don’t deny that they want to destroy us.”

Peres with Netanyahu family

President Shimon Peres who spoke at a cornerstone laying ceremony at the Air Force’s new technological college in Karmiel on Monday, asked participants to stand for one moment of silence in memory of Netanyahu. “A great historian and great Jew passed away,” Peres said.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin commented on Israel Radio about the influence that Benzion Netanyahu had on his son Benjamin (referring to the latter by his nickname). “Bibi learned the pure Zionism from a man who was so close to Jabotinsky,” he said.

“He was educated in a home where Zionism was a Zionism with no compromise … though Bibi’s realpolitik was much more developed,” Rivlin added.

At a party to celebrate his father’s 100th birthday, the Jewish Chronicle quoted the prime minister as saying, “I learned from you to look into the future.”

In his own speech at the same event, Benzion warned of the dangers Iran posed as it forged ahead with a nuclear program that many in the West believe is aimed at acquiring atomic bombs.

He said Israel should be ready to strike Iran when “there is a reasonable chance of success.”

The Zionist ideology that Netanyahu advocated was based on the belief that Jews had the right to live in all the biblical land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria, east Jerusalem and parts of modern-day Jordan. In 2004, Netanyahu was among the signatories to a petition that called the disengagement from the Gaza Strip a “crime against humanity.”

In 2011, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar awarded Benzion Netanyahu the Dona Gracia medal in recognition of his work on the subject of Spanish Jews.

From Benjamin Netanyahu’s eulogy:

Benzion Netanyahu, left, with his son, Benjamin, at the official memorial service for the late Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky in Jerusalem in 2010.

“You father, never hesitated to face the trials that had befallen the Jewish nation and contribute to the nation’s defense. Two years ago, when you turned 100, I had the privilege (…) of telling you, while you were alive, how much I love you, how much I adore you. Dear father, how can I describe all that you have given Yoni, Ido and me?” the prime minister said in his eulogy.

The PM said his father had shown him what commitment was, both to the state and to family, and also contributed to the establishment of the Jewish state. The PM mentioned that his father traveled to London to persuade Jabotinsky to relocate to the United States and from there mobilize support for the Jewish state.

“Jabotinsky died shortly after you arrived in the US, but you did not lose hope and approached dozens of senators, congressman and American leaders such as (Dwight D.) Eisenhower. You told them that the Jewish state would be established and that it would not be defeated by the Arabs,” the PM said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu then addressed his late father, saying: “Years before Herzl’s predictions were realized you understood that he was right. When you were 27 you wrote that Herzl saw the catastrophe and the looming destruction of the nation. You wrote that a few years before the Second World War and the Holocaust.

Not only did you agree with Herzl over the dangers in store, you worked to keep it at bay and contributed to the foundation of the State of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu also mentioned the hardships his parents faced after his brother Yoni was killed in Entebbe. “Your foresight led you, 35 years ago, after Yoni was killed, to focus an international intellectual effort against global terror. You said that the thing standing behind terror was policy and then terror could be vanquished.

“Father, those attributes, of foresight, and others, I could not understand as a little boy growing up in the 50s. Slowly, slowly, things became clear to me and to Iddo as we grew older.”

Netanyahu expressed the admiration he had for his parents and the way they lived their lives after his brother’s death. “You carried, both of you, your grief with grace. I don’t know where you found the strength to go on living with your sorrow.”

The prime minister then said: “Father, on this day that I say goodbye to you, I wish to tell you the same words that yoni wrote to you 46 years ago: I have never told you how proud I am that you are the person you are and that I am your son.”

Related Posts:

About these ads

3 comments on “Bibi Netanyahu’s father, historian Benzion, passes away at 102

  1. Pingback: Romney sends condolences to Netanyahu for father’s passing – no word from Obama yet | Quite Normal

  2. Pingback: Netanyahu marks 40th anniversary of his Sayeret Matkal commando unit’s Sabena Rescue Operation | Quite Normal

  3. Pingback: New documentary: “Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story” | Quite Normal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s