Ben-Zion Netanyahu, father of Israeli prime minister, dies at 102


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JERUSALEM -- The man said to have had the most profound influence on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his father, historian Ben-Zion Netanyahu, died early Monday in his Jerusalem home at age 102.

Born Ben-Zion Milikovsky in Warsaw in 1910, the elder Netanyahu emigrated with his family to Palestine in 1920. He and his wife, Tzila, were married in 1944, during his studies in Palestine, then under the British Mandate. They had three sons.


The family moved to the United States, where he pursued his academic work, becoming a historian of renown and specializing in research of medieval Spanish Jewry and the roots of the Spanish Inquisition.

He also pursued his Zionist passion, working closely with Zionism’s prominent Revisionist leader, Zeev Jabotinsky, as his personal secretary in the United States during World War II. The Revisionist movement was uncompromising in its political positions and differed sharply from the socialist Zionists of the early 20th century. Netanyahu opposed the United Nations’ 1947 Partition Plan.

After the foundation of Israel, the family returned to the fledgling state. Despite Netanyahu’s acclaimed work, Israeli academia did not embrace the scholar, whose right-wing beliefs went against the grain of the prevalent socialist hegemony, and he continued his scholarship with various American universities until becoming a professor emeritus at Cornell University.

The Netanyahus lived between the United States and Israel until their final return to Israel in 1976, after their son, Yoni, was killed during an Israeli commando operation to rescue hostages on an Air France flight hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda. Benjamin Netanyahu delivered the news to his parents.

‘The longest, most difficult journey of my life,’ he later said. ‘Since then, our family changed drastically.’

Ben-Zion Netanyahu was eulogized by many as a great scholar, intellectual and ideologue of unwavering principles. Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar said Ben-Zion Netanyahu was a ‘Zionist in every fiber of his being’ and a man who saw with ‘clear sobriety the dangers facing our people.’


Many attribute the prime minister’s deep convictions and flair for history to his father’s unwavering beliefs. ‘Benjamin Netanyahu was raised on uncompromising Zionism,’ Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told Israel Radio.

Condolences to the Netanyahu family came from across the political spectrum, and opposition parties have withdrawn no-confidence motions and bills calling to dissolve parliament and move to early elections out of respect for the week of mourning.

Netanyahu will be buried in Jerusalem later today. He is survived by his sons, the prime minister and Ido Netanyahu, a physician, author and playwright.

[For the Record, April 30, 11:34 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said Benjamin Netanyahu had traveled from Israel to the U.S. to tell his parents about his brother’s death. He actually traveled within the U.S. to reach his parents.]


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