Political activist and historian Benzion Netanyahu has died at the age of 102, The JTA Jewish News Archive reports. Benzion was the father of Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
"Professor Netanyahu was an important scholar, both profound and original," Israel's Education Minister Gideon Saar told Israel Radio. "He was a great historian and a great Jew," said President Shimon Peres.
Netanyahu was born in Poland in 1910 to a Zioniist family. The JTA reports that Benzion's father, Rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky, a Zionist preacher, brought his family to British ruled Palestine in 1920, and changed the family's name to Netanyahu.
Under Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Benzion joined the militant wing of the Zionist movement, Revisionist Zionism.He was a great writer, and became editor of the Revisionist newspaper, HaYarden. Jabotinsky was a rival of Labor Zionist David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister.
According to The New York Times, Netanyahu would eventually go onto become the executive director of the United States chapter of the Revisionist Zionism group. He met with policymakers such as General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dean Acheson about garnering support for Zionists in Palestine.
Netanyahu remained in the United States until 1948 when Israel gained independence. While in the US, Netanyahu received his PhD from Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia, The NY Times reports. That school is now the Center of Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote his dissertation on Isaac Abranel, a Jewish scholar and statesman who opposed Jews being banished from Spain.
In 1995, Netanyahu wrote The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century Spain., which explained that Jews in Spain were actually enthusiastic about becoming Catholics. He wrote that Jews were persecuted because the Spanish believed they were of an "evil race." It had nothing to do with their beliefs. "Jealousy over Jews' success in the economy and the royal court only fueled the oppression."
According to The NY Times, the book was praised, but received criticism for being ignorant of certain sources and interpretations. Critics believed that Netanyahu wrote his book "through the rear-view mirror of the Holocaust."
Netanyahu believed, however, that "Jewish history is a history of holocausts." In an interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker in 1998, Netanyahu said he believed Hitler's genocide was different in scale, but basically, Jews had always been through genocide and holocausts. He believed the same danger still faced Jews in the Middle East.
According to Bloomberg,, like his son, Binyamin, the current prime minister of Israel, Benzion believed that Iran has evil intentions for Israel, that they want to build a nuclear bomb. He also believed that Iran had genocide in mind. At his 100th birthday party he spoke of Iran pledging to end Zionism.
Binyamin Netanyahu has defended his father's extreme views, but has also distanced himself a bit saying he doesn't share all his father's views, The New York Times reports.
According to Bloomberg, many Israelis have argued that with the elder Netanyahu gone, Binyamin is now free to show more willingness to compromise on issues facing Israel, most notably Iran's nuclear program and Palestinian statehood, but it remains to be seen what policy changes, if any, the prime minister makes.
Benzion preferred to stay largely out of the spotlight, but according to JTA, he agreed to participate in a documentary about his life by israeli filmmaker Moshe Levinson. Coincidentally, the documentary is scheduled to premiere this week in Jerusalem.