Benzion Netanyahu, prime minister’s father, was leading Zionist


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with his father Benzion Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Benzion Netanyahu, a renowned historian and Zionist activist, who was the father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reportedly his strongest influence, died Monday morning, April 30 at his home in Jerusalem. He was 102.
Prime Minister Netanyahu visited his father one last time on Sunday night.
“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, Iddo and me?” the prime minister said in his eulogy.
Born Benzion Mileikowsky in Warsaw, Poland on March 25, 1910, Netanyahu’s father, Nathan, a rabbi, moved the family to Mandatory Palestine in 1920 and changed its name to Netanyahu.
As an historian, Netanyahu focused his research 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.
He also served as editor in chief of the Hebrew encyclopedia for several years and as a professor of Jewish studies at various universities in the United States, including Cornell University where he was a professor emeritus.
Netanyahu was also an expert on antisemitism 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.  In 1939, he persuaded Jabotinsky to relocate from London to the United States in order to advocate for support of the Jewish state.
“Jabotinsky died shortly after you arrived in the U.S., but you did not lose hope and approached dozens of senators, congressman and American leaders such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower. You told them that the Jewish state would be established and that it would not be defeated by the Arabs,” the prime minister said in his eulogy.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, Benzion Netanyahu left the U.S. and returned with his young family to Jerusalem.
“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,” said the prime minister.
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.
“We have lost a great teacher who left behind a leader for his people,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said, speaking at the funeral. Turning to the prime minister he continued: “Bibi, your father wrote about history and you are making it with the same perception and heritage. I know that your heart is broken but your spirit is strong.”
Benzion Netanyahu was predeceased by his wife, Tzila (Segal), whom he married in 1944, and by his son Yonatan, who was killed in 1976 while leading an operation to rescue hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.  In addition to his son, Benjamin, he is survived by a son Iddo, a doctor, author and playwright, and several grandchildren.  He was buried Monday afternoon in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul cemetery.

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