Israel on Monday collectively mourned the passing of Benzion Netanyahu, scholar, Zionist leader, and father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was 102.
Unsurprising considering his age, Benzion Netanyahu was around for the rebirth of the Jewish state, and played a leading role in that miraculous episode.
Benzion Netanyahu was born in Warsaw, Poland. He moved with his family to the Land of Israel (then under British Mandate rule) in 1920. He worked for years as the personal aide of Zeev Jabotinsky, a leader in the Zionist movement and founder of Revisionist Zionism.
Revisionist Zionism, to which Benzion Netanyahu dedicated his life, was and remains at odds with the more dominant Labor Zionism in that it views the establishment (and now the strengthening) of a Jewish state as its primary goal. Revisionist Zionism originally demanded that the Jews be given sovereignty over all the territories once ruled by their biblical forefathers, including territories that are today part of neighboring Jordan.
At the social level, Revisionist Zionism was and still is more focused on strengthening the middle class as a means of boosting the entire economy, a concept that is today the cornerstone of capitalism. By contrast, Labor Zionism is more socialist and welfare-minded in its economic orientation.
Revisionist Zionism is the founding ideology of Israel's Likud Party, and both Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu are seen as the "fathers" of Knesset faction that Benjamin Netanyahu today leads.
During the 1940s, Benzion lived in the US as head of Jabotinsky's New Zionist Organization of America in order to promote the Zionist goal of establishing a strong and independent Jewish state.
Contemporaries have since acknowledged that Benzion's efforts were instrumental in building the foundation for strong American support for Israel. It was because of his lobbying efforts that first the Republican and then the Democratic parties both included support for Israel as part of their official party platforms.
Benzion Netanyahu returned to Israel in 1949 following the establishment of the state of Israel.
Later in his life, Benzion Netanyahu served as chief editor for the Encyclopedia Hebraica and became a recognized expert on Jewish history in Spain. He eventually returned to the US where he was a professor at Dropsie College (1957-1966), the University of Denver (1968-1971) and Cornell University (1971-1975).
Benzion's eldest son, Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed while leading the daring 1976 raid to free 106 airline passengers being held hostage by pro-Palestinian terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Following that tragedy, Benzion moved the rest of his family back to Israel.
Benzion Netanyahu never shied away from publicly opposing any of the policies of the younger Netanyahu that he felt were harmful to the strengthening of Israel and the gradual return to Jewish sovereignty of all the biblical homeland.
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