Benzion Netanyahu: Zionist whose views had a profound influence on his son Benjamin

 

Benzion Netanyahu never deviated, in his 102 years, from his hardline Zionist stance which held that no deal would ever be possible between Jew and Arab. In two of his three sons he provided Israel first with a military martyr, who died while rescuing hostages in an audacious commando raid in Africa, and later with its current prime minister, Benjamin.

As a historian of note he argued that through the ages Jews had been targeted not because of religion but for their race: he called it "Jew hatred", maintaining that the persecution could be traced back to ancient Egypt. He declared: "Jewish history is a history of holocausts, while Hitler's genocide was different only in scale."

Although Benjamin Netanyahu has often been described as a hardliner, Benzion's unbending attitudes led him to criticise even some of his son's political decisions. "With Benzion there was no place for compromise, and for that reason he sometimes showed displeasure with needs that his son had as a politician," said the Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin.

But father and son were close, with much speculation that the father's influence had helped shape the outlook of the prime minister and inhibited his freedom of movement. While Benjamin has dismissed this theory as "psychobabble", he will now be closely observed for signs of a more flexible approach.

Benzion Netanyahu was born in Warsaw in 1910, the son of an ardent Zionist rabbi, Nathan Mileikowsky, who changed the family name to Netanyahu, or "God-given". The family moved to Jerusalem, where he attended boarding school and went on to take a master's degree in history at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

In the 1930s Netanyahu became prominent in Revisionist Zionism, a movement which criticised mainstream Zionist organisations as overly moderate and advocated a Greater Israel that would include today's Jordan. Benjamin's Likud party traces its ancestry back to Benzion's revisionist movement. He edited its daily newspaper before it was closed down, then moved to the US, where he served as secretary to the movement's leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky. When Jabotinsky died Benzion became its executive director and an active lobbyist.

While in the US he continued his education, studying Jewish history at colleges in Pennsylvania, Denver and Cornell. Returning to Israel in 1949 he had difficulty securing a university post, since although he was academically qualified he was politically out of step with the prevailing socialism of the time. Instead he joined the team editing the Encyclopedia Hebraica, later becoming its editor-in-chief, as well as author or editor of a number of books, becoming an authority on the experience of Jews in medieval Spain.

His most striking work was his monumental book The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain. It was hailed as erudite and meticulously researched, though one Hebrew University historian said of it: "If you ask me, deep down in his heart he feels that everything is a plot against the Jews."

Feeling isolated by the political and academic establishments, he shuttled back and forth to America several times in the years that followed so that his sons spent many years there: Benjamin is regarded as still having a Philadelphia accent. All three sons served in Israeli elite special forces with the eldest, Yoni, meeting his death in Entebbe in 1976 as he led a mission which rescued 100 hostages from Idi Amin's Uganda.

When Benjamin first became prime minister in 1996 many attributed his hawkish attitudes to his father's approach. "Benzion founded a house of pure political Zionism, without compromises," according to Speaker Rivlin. "His offspring have imbibed his observations and his world view." Though proud of his son, Benzion felt he was sometimes overly pragmatic. "He didn't succeed in his first term," he said. "He wasn't a very good prime minister."

Benzion's own line never softened. The American rabbi Shmuley Boteach said admiringly: "Here was a Jewish nationalist of phenomenal determination. Zionism was in his DNA and I have rarely met a more passionate Jewish patriot or a prouder Jew." His views did not moderate with age: when he was 95 he opposed Israel's withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip under a disengagement plan, describing the operation as "a crime against humanity".

He spoke caustically of Arabs. "The tendency to conflict is in the essence of the Arab," he once declared. "Heis an enemy by essence. His personality won't allow any compromise or agreement. It doesn't matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. The Arab citizen's goal is to destroy us."

He regarded continuing Middle East conflict as inevitable, saying in 2009: "They won't be able to face war with us, which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education, terminating electrical power and so on. They won't be able to exist, and they will run away from here."

On his 100th birthday he made a speech as he approached the end of a life characterised by exceptionalconsistency. Warning of the dangers posed by an Iranian nuclear programme, he insisted Israel should be ready to strike Iran "when there is a reasonable chance of success." Such sentiments led New Yorker to sum him up thus: "His judgements of Israel and history are often so dark, so unforgiving, that he sounds like the harshest of Old Testament prophets."

He is survived by Benjamin and a third son, Iddo, a radiologist and author.

David McKittrick

Benzion Mileikowsky (Benzion Netanyahu), historian: born Warsaw 25 March 1910; married 1944 Tzila Segal (died 2000; two sons, and one son deceased); died 30 April 2012.

Suggested Topics
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Reception Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is the UK mark...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments