Benzion Netanyahu in 2007.
March 25, 1910
Warsaw, Vistula Land (Poland), Russian Empire
|Died||April 30, 2012
|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)|
|Children||Yonatan, Benjamin, Iddo|
|Parents||Rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky
Sarah (Lurie) Mileikowsky
Benzion Netanyahu (Hebrew: בֶּנְצִיּוֹן נְתַנְיָהוּ, IPA: [ˈbentsijon netanˈjahu]; born Benzion Mileikowsky ; March 25, 1910 – April 30, 2012) was an Israeli scholar of Judaic history, activist in the Revisionist Zionism movement, who lobbied in the United States for the creation of the Jewish state. 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. He spent a significant portion of his life in the United States, and became Ze'ev Jabotinsky’s personal secretary, but never got involved in Israeli politics. One of his sons is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benzion Mileikowsky (later Netanyahu) was born in Warsaw in partitioned Poland which was under Russian control, to Sarah (Lurie) and the writer and Zionist activist Nathan Mileikowsky. Nathan was a rabbi who toured Europe and the United States, making speeches supporting Zionism. After Nathan took the family to Mandate Palestine (aliyah) in 1920, he changed the family name to Netanyahu. 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. 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 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.
Benzion Netanyahu studied medieval history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During his studies, Netanyahu became active in Revisionist Zionists circles, people who had split from their mainstream counterparts, believing they were too conciliatory to the British authorities governing Palestine and espoused a more militant, right-wing version of Jewish nationalism than the one advocated by the Labour Zionists who led Israel in its early years. The revisionists were led by Jabotinsky, whose belief in the necessity of an “iron wall” between Israel and its Arab neighbors has influenced Israeli politics since the 1930s. Netanyahu became a close friend to Abba Ahimeir.
Benzion Netanyahu was coeditor of Betar, a Hebrew monthly (1933–1934), then editor of the Revisionist Zionist daily newspaper Ha-Yarden in Jerusalem (1934–1935). The British Mandate authorities ordered that paper to close.[dubious ] He was editor at the Zionist Political Library, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, 1935–1940.
In 1940, Netanyahu went to New York to be secretary to Jabotinsky, who was seeking to build American support for his militant New Zionists. Jabotinsky died the same year, and Netanyahu became executive director, a post he held until 1948. 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, Netanyahu was one of the Revisionist movement's leaders in the United States. At the same time, he pursued his PhD at Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia (now the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania), writing his dissertation on Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508), a Jewish scholar and statesman who opposed the banishment of Jews from Spain.
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. During that time, he was active in engaging with Congress members in Washington, D.C..
In 1949, he returned to Palestine (State of Israel declared its independence in 1948), 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". In his younger days, he had been strongly in favour of the idea of Arab transfer out of Palestine.
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."
In 2010, at his 100th birthday celebration at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, his son Benjamin Netanyahu, then Prime Minister of Israel, articulated that in 1937, in an article about Theodor Herzl, his father predicted the Holocaust that would befall the Jewish people in Europe. "This same prescience, led my father to say decades ago that the threat to world peace would come from those parts of the Muslim world where oil, terror and nuclear energy mix. It also led him to say to me, in the early 1990s, that Muslim extremists would try to bring down the twin towers in New York – a prediction I included in one of my books."
Having previously struggled to fit in to Israeli academia, perhaps the consequence of a combination of personal and political reasons, 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” in Hebrew, 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 the 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 field of Medieval Spanish Jewry, Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain and Portugal, Netanyahu wrote a book about Isaac Abrabanel and essays on the Spanish Inquisition and the Marranos. He developed a theory according to which the Marranos converted, not under compulsion, but out of a desire to integrate into Christian society - but were pushed into being Marranos by continued persecution due to racism, and not out of pure religious persecution, as was previously believed. He argued that what was new in the 15th century was the Spanish monarchy’s practice of defining Jews not religiously, not mere theology, but racially, by the principle of limpieza de sangre, purity of blood; which served as a prototype of 20th-century persecutions. Netanyahu rejected the myth that the Marranos lived double lives, claiming that the idea grew out of Inquisition documents.
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.
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". 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. Netanyahu, in contrast, challenged the belief that the accusations of the Inquisition were true, and considers the majority of converts to be "Mitbolelim" (Cultural 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. According to Netanyahu, Christian society had never accepted the new converts, for reasons of economic and racial envy.
Netanyahu was a member of the American Academy for Jewish Research, the Institute for Advanced Religious Studies and the American Zionist Emergency Council. In the 1960s, Netanyahu edited in English two more major reference books: the “Encyclopedia Judaica” and “The World History of the Jewish People.”
- Don Isaac Abravanel. Statesman and philosopher, 1953. Ithaca, 1998; The Jewish Publication Society, 2001.
- Toward the inquisition. Essays on Jewish and converso history in late medieval Spain, Ithaca, 1997.
- The Marranos of Spain. From the late XIVth to the early XVIth Century, 1966. Ithaca, 1999.
- The origins of the Inquisition. In fifteenth Century Spain. New York: Random House, 1st edition August 1995.
- The Five Forefathers of Zionism, Yedioth Ahronoth, 2004.
- The Founding Fathers of Zionism. Balfour Books & Gefen Publishing House, 2012. ISBN 978-1-933267159
- Staff (2000-02-01). "Cela Netanyahu, at 87". News (Jerusalem Post). p. 2.
- Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC. Fee via Fairfax County Public Library, accessed 2009-05-18. Document Number: H1000072529.
- 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.
- Middle Israel: Benzion Netanyahu’s on messianism Jerusalem Post, 05/03/2012, By AMOTZ ASA-EL
- "Benjamin Netanyahu: A Man Shaped By His Family", The Huffington Post, May 2, 2009.
- Hitchens, Christopher. "The Iron Wall".
- 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 http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/mfa/kashtum.html. Retrieved 2009-05-18. Missing or empty
- 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.
- 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]
- The United Zionists-Revisionists of America (12 September 1947). "Ad: Partition Will Not Solve the Palestine Problem!". New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
- Martin, Douglas (30 April 2012). "Benzion Netanyahu, Hawkish Scholar, Dies at 102". New York Times. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
- 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.
- "Obituary: Benzion Netanyahu". The Herald. 10 May 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
- Herschthal, Eric (1 May 2012). "The Death of the Father: How Did Benzion Netanyahu Influence His Son?". The Jewish Week. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
- Murphy, Cullen (2012). God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 95.
- "Personal History. The eminent publisher on his teacher, friend, and political opposite, Benzion Netanyahu"/ Tablet Magazine, July 6, 2010.