Benzion Netanyahu

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Benzion Netanyahu
Benzion Netanyahu 2007.jpg
Benzion Netanyahu in 2007.
Born Benzion Mileikowsky
(1910-03-25)March 25, 1910
Warsaw, Russian Empire
Died April 30, 2012(2012-04-30) (aged 102)
Jerusalem, Israel
Nationality Israeli
Education Hebrew Teachers Seminary, Jerusalem, Israel, teacher's diploma, 1929
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, M.A., 1933
Dropsie College, Ph.D., 1947
Spouse(s) Tzila Segal (m. 1944; died 2000)[1]
Children Yonatan, Benjamin, Iddo
Parents Rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky
Sarah (Lurie) Mileikowsky

Benzion Netanyahu (Hebrew: בֶּנְצִיּוֹן נְתַנְיָהוּ, IPA: [ˈbentsijon netanˈjahu]; March 25, 1910 – April 30, 2012)[2][3] was an Israeli historian and activist in the Revisionist Zionism movement. His field of expertise was the history of the Jews in Spain and he served an editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia and was a professor at Cornell University. Netanyahu's son is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Benzion Mileikowsky (later Netanyahu) was born in Warsaw, Russian Empire (now Poland), to Sarah (Lurie) and the writer and Zionist activist Nathan Mileikowsky. In 1920 the family emigrated to Mandate Palestine. After living in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and Safed, the family settled in Jerusalem. Netanyahu studied in the David Yellin teachers seminary and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although his father was a rabbi, Benzion was devoutly secular.[4] His younger brother, mathematician Elisha Netanyahu, became Dean of Sciences at the Technion. Netanyahu's father signed some of his articles with the name Netanyahu, the Hebrew translation of his first name (Hebrew for "God's gift"). It was a common practice for Zionist immigrants at the time to adopt a Hebrew name[5] and his son adopted this family name. He also used the pen name "Nitay."

In 1944, Netanyahu married Tzila Segal, whom he met during his studies in Palestine. The couple had three sons—Yonatan (1946–76), former commander of Sayeret Matkal, who was killed in action leading Operation Entebbe; Benjamin, (b. 1949), Israeli Prime Minister (1996–99, 2009–present); and Iddo (b. 1952), an Israeli physician, author and playwright. Netanyahu became a widower in 2000, when Tzila died. He died on the morning of April 30, 2012, in his Jerusalem home at the age of 102.[6]

Zionist activism[edit]

During his studies, Netanyahu became active in Revisionist Zionists circles, and a close friend to Abba Ahimeir.[7] He was coeditor of Betar a Hebrew monthly (1933–1934), then editor of the Revisionist Zionist daily newspaper Ha-Yarden in Jerusalem (1934–1935).[2] The British Mandate authorities ordered that paper to close.[dubious ][8] He was editor at the Zionist Political Library, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, 1935–1940. He traveled to New York and became the secretary to Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the father of the Revisionist Zionism movement.[9][10] Shortly thereafter, when Jabotinsky died, Netanyahu remained in New York and continued his Revisionist activities. He was executive director New Zionist Organization of America in New York 1940–1948, the political rival of the mainstream Zionist Organization of America.

During World War II, he was one of the Revisionist movement's leaders in the U.S. At the same time he pursued his PhD at Dropsie College in Philadelphia, writing his dissertation on Isaac Abrabanel.

Netanyahu believed in Greater Israel. When the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was published (November 29, 1947), he joined others who signed the petition against the plan that was published in the New York Times.[11] During that time, he was active in engaging with Congress members in Washington, D.C.. He returned to Palestine (now the newly established State of Israel) in 1949, where he tried to start a political career but failed.

Relentlessly hawkish, he also believed that the "vast majority of Israeli Arabs would choose to exterminate us if they had the option to do so".[12] In his younger days, he had been strongly in favour of the idea of Arab transfer out of Palestine.[13]

In 2009 he told Maariv "The tendency to conflict is the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won't allow him to compromise. It doesn't matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war."[14][15]

Academic career[edit]

Having previously struggled to fit into Israeli academia, perhaps the consequence of a combination of personal and political reasons,[16] Netanyahu nonetheless continued his academic activities upon his return to the Jewish State. For various reasons, he still did not manage to integrate into the academic faculty of the Hebrew University, but his mentor Joseph Klausner recommended him to be one of the editors of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, and upon Klausner's death Netanyahu became chief editor.

He returned to Dropsie College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, first as professor of Hebrew language and literature, and chairman of the department, (1957–1966), then professor of medieval Jewish history and Hebrew literature, (1966–1968). He moved first to University of Denver as professor of Hebraic studies, (1968–1971), then returned to New York in order to edit a Jewish encyclopedia and eventually take a teaching job at Cornell University as professor of Judaic studies and chairman of department of Semitic languages and literatures, 1971–1975. Following the death of his son Yonatan during the Entebbe hostage rescue operation in 1976, he and his family returned to Israel. At the time of his death Netanyahu served as a member of the Academy for Fine Arts[dubious ] and a professor emeritus at Cornell University.

Specializing in the golden age of Jewish History in Spain, Netanyahu is best known for his magnum opus, the Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain. His publisher and friend Jason Epstein wrote

The 1,400-page work of scholarship overturned centuries of misunderstanding, and predictably it was faintly praised and in a few cases angrily denounced or simply ignored by a threatened scholarly establishment. Dispassionate scholars soon prevailed, and today Benzion’s brilliant revisionist achievement towers over the field of Inquisition studies.[17]

A New York Times obituary noted: "Though praised for its insights, the book was also criticized as having ignored 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, quite generally, Netanyahu regarded Jewish history as "a history of holocausts".[12] Origins led Netanyahu into scholarly dispute with Yitzhak Baer. Baer, following earlier views, considered the Anusim (forced converts to Christianity) to be a case of "Kiddush Hashem" (sanctification of the name [of God]: i.e., dying or risking oneself to preserve the name of God). According to Baer, therefore, the converts chose to live a double life, with some level of risk, while retaining their original faith.[citation needed] Netanyahu, in contrast, challenged the belief that the accusations of the Inquisition were true, and considers the majority of converts to be "Mitbolelim" (assimilationists), and willing converts to Christianity, claiming that the small number of forced converts who did not truly adhere to their new religion were used in a propagandistic fashion by the Inquisition to allege a broader resistance movement.[citation needed] According to Netanyahu, Christian society had never accepted the new converts, for reasons of economic and racial envy.[citation needed]

Netanyahu was a member of the American Academy for Jewish Research, the Institute for Advanced Religious Studies and the American Zionist Emergency Council.

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ Staff (2000-02-01). "Cela Netanyahu, at 87". News (Jerusalem Post). p. 2. 
  2. ^ a b c Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009. Fee via Fairfax County Public Library, accessed 2009-05-18. Document Number: H1000072529.
  3. ^ Hastings, Max, Yoni, Hero of Entebbe, states that Yoni Netanyahu's birthday preceded his father's by three days. Yoni's birthdate, after sunset, is 11 Weadar 5706 (March 13, 1946); March 25, 1910, is 14 Weadar 5670.
  4. ^ Middle Israel: Benzion Netanyahu’s on messianism Jerusalem Post, 05/03/2012, By AMOTZ ASA-EL
  5. ^ "Benjamin Netanyahu: A Man Shaped By His Family", The Huffington Post, May 2, 2009.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Hitchens, Christopher. "The Iron Wall". 
  8. ^ Tal, Rami. "The Israeli Press". Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Retrieved 2009-05-18. "The Revisionist Movement, after failing to convince Itamar Ben Avi to turn his paper into their mouthpiece, founded Ha'am (“The People”) in 1931, but within months it was shut down by the British authorities. They then founded Hayarden (“The Jordan”) and, in 1938, Hamashkif (“The Observer”). Jabotinsky was a steady contributor to these papers, and their editors included his secretary at the time, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, father of Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the leaders of today's Likud party." 
    Its source was Ariel – The Israel Review of Arts And Letters (Jerusalem: Division of Cultural and Scientific Affairs of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs) (99-100). July 1995 |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 2009-05-18. [dead link]
  9. ^ Goldberg, Jeffrey (September 14, 1997). "From Peace Process To Police Process". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-18. "As you know, the current Prime Minister's father was Jabotinsky's secretary, Kanan says, referring to Netanyahu's father, Benzion, a doctrinaire Revisionist." 
  10. ^ Tauber, Larry (Summer–Fall 2005). "An American Rabbi: The Life of Rabbi Jack Tauber" (PDF). Rootk Key – Newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles 25 (2/3) (Los Angeles, California). p. 57. Retrieved 2009-05-18. [dead link]
  11. ^ The United Zionists-Revisionists of America (12 September 1947). "Ad: Partition Will Not Solve the Palestine Problem!". New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (30 April 2012). "Benzion Netanyahu, Hawkish Scholar, Dies at 102". New York Times. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  13. ^ Medof, Rafael (2002). Militant Zionism in America: The Rise and Impact of the Jabotinsky Movement in the United States, 1926–1948. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. pp. 94–5. 
  14. ^ "Obituary: Benzion Netanyahu". The Herald. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012. 
  15. ^ Herschthal, Eric (1 May 2012). "The Death of the Father: How Did Benzion Netanyahu Influence His Son?". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 11 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Murphy, Cullen (2012). God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 95. 
  17. ^ "Personal History. The eminent publisher on his teacher, friend, and political opposite, Benzion Netanyahu"/ Tablet Magazine, July 6, 2010.

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