Benzion Netanyahu, Hawkish Scholar, Dies at 102 (NY) TIMES) By DOUGLAS MARTIN 04/30/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-Top
Benzion Netanyahu, the father of the two-time Israeli prime minister
Benjamin, who fought for the creation of the Jewish state by lobbying
in the United States and went on to write an influential history of
the Spanish inquisition, died on Monday. He was 102.
His death was announced by the prime minister’s office. Mr. Netanyahu
was at various times a journalist, encyclopedia editor, professor,
historian and lobbyist — not to mention a behind-the-scenes adviser
to his son, the most powerful person in Israel. Throughout, his views
were relentlessly hawkish: he argued that Jews inevitably faced
discrimination that was racial and not religious, and that efforts to
compromise with Arabs were futile.
In the 1940s, as the executive director of the New Zionist
Organization in the United States, he met with influential
policymakers like General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State
Dean Acheson. He also wrote hard-hitting full-page advertisements
that appeared in The Times and other newspapers.
The goal of his group, which was part of the movement known as
revisionist Zionism, was to prevent dividing Palestine between Jews
and Arabs to create the new Israel. The group wanted a single, bigger
state that would have included present-day Jordan.
Ultimately, Israel was created as a result of the partition the
revisionists opposed. Nonetheless, Rafael Medoff, director of the
David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, said in a letter to
The Jerusalem Post in 2005 that Mr. Netanyahu was instrumental in
building American support for the smaller Israel that did emerge.
Mr. Medoff said Mr. Netanyahu persuaded the leadership of the
Republican Party to put a call for a Jewish state in its 1944
platform. It was the first time a major party had done this, and the
Democrats followed suit.
In his 1995 book, “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth
Century Spain,” Mr. Netanyahu offered a radical new way of viewing
the Inquisition. Rather than seeing it as the persecution of Jews for
secretly practicing their religion after pretending to convert to
Roman Catholicism — which had been the predominant view — Mr.
Netanyahu offered evidence that most Jews willingly became
enthusiastic Catholics. Jews were thus burned at the stake, he
concluded, for being perceived as an evil race rather than for
anything they did or believed.
Mr. Netanyahu said this persecution was fueled by jealousy over Jews’
success in the economy and at the royal court. In his 1,384-page
book, he traced what he called “Jew hatred” to ancient Egypt, long
The book garnered praise for its insights and criticism for ignoring
standard sources and interpretations. Not a few reviewers noted that
it seemed to look at long-ago cases of anti-Semitism through the rear-
view mirror of the Holocaust.
Indeed, in 1998, Mr. Netanyahu said in an interview with The New
Yorker that “Jewish history is a history of holocausts.” He suggested
then that Hitler’s genocide was different only in scale.
Mr. Netanyahu believed Jews remain endangered in today’s Middle East.
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv in 2009, he
said, “The vast majority of Israeli Arabs would choose to exterminate
us if they had the option to do so.”
He further said that Arabs are “an enemy by essence,” that they
cannot compromise and that they respond only to force.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly denied that his father
was a one-dimensional ideologue. He further emphasized that he
himself was a different person from his father.
Benjamin has dismissed conjectures about Benzion’s influence on his
decision-making as “psychobabble.” (He has, however, acknowledged
that his father called to correct grammatical mistakes in his
The author of the 1998 New Yorker article, David Remnick, reported
that Israelis seemed in the dark about the extent of paternal
influence on their leader. Benzion Netanyahu, he said, was “nearly a
legend, a kind of secret.” But, Mr. Remnick added, using the younger
Netanyahu’s nickname, “To understand Bibi, you have to understand the
Benzion Mileikowsky was born on March 25, 1910, in Warsaw, then part
of the Russian empire. His father, Nathan, was a rabbi who toured
Europe and America making speeches supporting Zionism. After Nathan
brought the family to Palestine in 1920, he changed the family name
to Netanyahu, which means God-given.
The young Mr. Netanyahu studied medieval history at Hebrew University
in Jerusalem. He became involved with the right-wing revisionist
Zionists who had split from their mainstream counterparts, whom they
believed were too conciliatory to the British who then governed
Palestine and the Arabs who lived there.
The revisionists were led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, whose belief in the
necessity of an “iron wall” between Israel and its Arab neighbors has
influenced Israeli politics since the 1930s. Jabotinsky is the most
popular street name in Israel, and the ruling Likud party traces its
roots to his movement.
In 1940, Mr. Netanyahu went to the United States to be secretary to
Mr. Jabotinsky, who was building American support for his militant
brand of Zionism. Mr. Jabotinsky died in a car accident that same
year, and Mr. Netanyahu became executive director of Mr. Jabotinsky’s
New Zionists, a post he held until 1948.
When not lobbying, Mr. Netanyahu found time to earn his Ph.D. from
Dropsie College in Philadelphia. He wrote his dissertation on Isaac
Abrabanel, a Jewish statesman who unsuccessfully opposed the
banishment of Jews from Spain.
After Israel declared its independence in 1948, Mr. Netanyahu
returned to Jerusalem, where he tried without success to get into
politics. He became editor of the “Encyclopedia Hebraica,” in Hebrew.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Netanyahu and his family lived
alternately in Israel and in the United States, where he taught at
Dropsie, the University of Denver and Cornell University.
In the 1960s, Mr. Netanyahu edited two more major reference books,
these in English. They were the “Encyclopedia Judaica” and “The World
History of the Jewish People.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s eldest son, Jonathan, commanded the spectacular
rescue of more than 100 Jewish and Israeli hostages on board an Air
France jet at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. He was the only
In addition to Benjamin, who was Israel’s prime minister from 1996 to
1999 and from 2009 to the present, Mr. Netanyahu is survived another
son, Iddo, a radiologist and writer. His wife, the former Cela Segal;
died in 2000.
An early example of Mr. Netanyahu’s uncompromising spirit occurred
when he was a university student and won a poetry contest with a
prize of $20. When he went to claim the prize, he was given just $10.
When he protested, he was told that he wasn’t getting the full amount
because his poem was short. He never wrote another. (Copyright 2012
The New York Times Company 04/30/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY