ZOA Mourns Zionist Giant Prof. Benzion Netanyahu (ZOA) ZIONISH ORGANIZATION AMERICA) 04/30/12)
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The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is mourning the passing of
Zionist giant, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, who passed away today in
Jerusalem at the age of 102. Professor Netanyahu, a world-renowned
scholar of Jewish history, was the father of Israel’s current Prime
Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu; Lt.-Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, who was
killed leading the 1976 Entebbe rescue mission; and Dr. Iddo
Netanyahu, the distinguished radiologist and writer. In 1940,
Professor Netanyahu served as secretary to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the
founder of Revisionist Zionism.
Born in Warsaw in 1910, Benzion Netanyahu received his BA from Hebrew
University of Jerusalem and his PhD from Dropsie College in
Philadelphia, where he later became a professor and later still head
of the Department of Language and Literature. He took up a
professorial post at Cornell and later became head of Cornell’s
Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures. While living in
Israel, he became chief editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica. His
magnum opus, the 1,400-page Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth
Century Spain, completely altered our understanding of the history of
the Jews in Spain.
In the United States, Professor Netanyahu served as the executive
director of the New Zionist Organization of America during the 1940s,
making him a prominent Revisionist Zionist activist in the United
States. He was also editor of the group’s biweekly U.S. publication,
In one editorial, he wrote of Jewish suffering through the ages had
failed to break the connection between Jews and their faith: “Through
oceans of blood, our blood, through oceans of tears, our tears,
hated, persecuted, beaten, wandering and homeless, we assemble at the
Pesach Seder to thank God for our liberation from Egypt, and to
express once again the hope of the Haggada: ‘This year we are still
slaves – next year we shall be free men.’” Only a nation of our
spiritual caliber could come through the ages of unparalleled
sufferings with its spirit unbroken; still alive; still striving for
liberty. Next year we shall be free men.” (‘Benzion Netanyahu to be
laid to rest in Jerusalem,’ Jerusalem Post, April 30, 2012).
In 2007, at the age of 98, Benzion Netanyahu flew from Israel to New
York to be keynote speaker at the ZOA’s Louis Brandeis Dinner. After
being introduced by Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of U.S. News &
World Report and past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of
Major American Jewish Organizations, Professor Netanyahu stated to
the 1,000 plus crowd, “I know you are working against heavy currents
towards dissolution and dismemberment [of Israel] and this occurred
in the days of President Truman. We had to work hard then to overcome
opposition, lack of interest, and the disbelief of American Jews.
You, too, have experienced this situation and you have managed to
overcome the first obstacle which is always the worst. I hope you
will not falter. Compared to the past, your task is considerably
easier ... It is vital not to tolerate a [Palestinian] terrorist
state in any way or form. This is first in importance. This is why
your president must first concentrate on the fulfillment of this
commitment, without which we cannot solve any issue ... This is the
greatest Zionist meeting I have ever attended since the days of
Jabotinsky. It was something to see such enthusiasm for Zionism from
the crowd. It made me more optimistic.”
ZOA President Morton A. Klein said, “I am personally deeply saddened
by the passing of Prof. Benzion Netanyahu.
“I am proud and privileged to have been able to call Prof. Netanyahu
my friend. Almost every week, we had long conversations about the
ongoing Arab war against Israel. His thoughts were always strong,
principled, and insightful. But he remained a kind and loving
gentleman, always offering me tea and cake at his home in Jerusalem
and discussing our families and my work.
“He was very proud of his sons, praising Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu for his brilliance, his oratorical skills, and for his
political acumen. He once proudly told me that in 1967, while living
in Philadelphia, his sons wanted to leave high school during exams to
go fight in the 1967 war – Prof. Netanyahu pleaded with them to stay
and complete their exams – but their love of Zion and commitment to
Israel caused them to leave and fight for the Jewish State.
“Prof. Netanyahu told me of the gratitude he felt of the frequent
visits of his sons to his home in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister took
time off from his busy schedule to visit his father regularly.
“Prof. Netanyahu often complained to me that Jewish leadership
throughout the world wasn’t strong nor courageous enough – but
explained that as a Jewish historian, he knew that this was true
throughout Jewish history, not just during this era.
“Over the 17 years that I knew him, he predicted Oslo would never
bring peace; that the Gaza withdrawal would never bring peace; and
that Arafat and Abbas had no interest in real peace. Painfully, he
was right about all of that.
“He told me that his greatest Jewish heroes of the 20th century were
Theodore Herzl and Vladimir Jabotinsky.
“I told him that he, Professor Netanyahu, was a personal hero to me.
(© 2012 Zionist Organization of America 04/30/12)
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