Benzion Netanyahu, father of Israels PM, scholar and Zionist thinker, dies at 102

Benzion Netanyahu, a noted Jewish historian and Zionist thinker, and the father of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, died April 30 at his home in Jerusalem. He was 102.

Benjamin Netanyahu visited his father for the last time the previous evening, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu was born Benzion Mileikowsky in Warsaw in 1910 and immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1920.

He studied at the David Yellin Teachers’ College and later at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research focused 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; and his major work, “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain.” 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.

Netanyahu was the editor-in-chief of the Hebrew Encyclopedia for more than a decade beginning in the 1950s. He served as a professor of Jewish studies at various universities in the United States, concluding his academic career as professor emeritus at Cornell University.

From his time as a student in Jerusalem, he was involved in public Zionist activities. Netanyahu was a supporter of Jabotinsky and edited a newspaper that also featured Joseph Klausner and poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg on its staff.

In 1939, Netanyahu traveled to London and persuaded Jabotinsky to relocate to the United States and from there mobilize support for the Jewish state. Jabotinsky died shortly after their arrival in the U.S.; Netanyahu continued to raise support for the Jewish state throughout the war and afterward.

Upon the establishment of the State of Israel, he moved with his young family back to Israel and settled in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood.

He was predeceased by his wife, Tzila, with whom he was married for more than 50 years, and son Yonatan, who was killed during the July 1976 hostage-rescue operation at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Along with Benjamin, he also is survived by his son Ido, a doctor, author and playwright. — jta