JERUSALEM — Benzion Netanyahu, historian, Zionist activist who fought for the creation of Israel and influential father of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, died Monday in his Jerusalem home, the Israeli leader's office said. He was 102.
He was best known in academic circles for his research into the medieval inquisition against the Jews of Spain.
Born Benzion Mileikowsky in Warsaw, Poland, Netanyahu was a devout follower of revisionist Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky, who advocated Jewish military strength and the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. Netanyahu served as his personal aide until Jabotinsky's death in 1940.
In the 1940s, as executive director of the New Zionist Organization in the United States, Netanyahu advocated a Jewish state in meetings with policymakers like Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, The New York Times reported.
His group's goal: preventing the division of Palestine between Jews and Arabs to create the new Israel, the Times reported. The group wanted a single, bigger state that would have included present-day Jordan.
Ultimately, Israel was created as a result of the partition the revisionists opposed. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, credited Netanyahu as being key to building American support for Israel that did emerge, as well as persuading Republican Party leaders to put a call for a Jewish state in its 1944 platform — a first for a major party, according to the Times. The Democrats followed suit.
He then edited right-wing Jewish publications and earned a Ph.D in history from Dropsie College in Philadelphia. Later, he was a professor of Jewish history and Hebrew literature at the University of Denver and Cornell University, where he served as chairman of the department of Semitic languages and literature.
Due to his academic career, his family frequently moved between the United States and Israel.
Netanyahu and his wife, Tzila, had three sons: Yonatan, Benjamin and Ido, all of whom served in the same elite Israeli military commando unit. Yonatan, known as Yoni, commanded the Sayeret Matkal unit and was killed in action during a daring 1976 hostage rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda.
Following his death, Netanyahu returned to Israel full-time. His middle son Benjamin, nicknamed Bibi, went into politics and was elected prime minister of Israel in 1996 and again in 2009. Iddo, the youngest of the three, is a radiologist and writer.
Netanyahu is believed to have had great influence over his son's politics and openly criticized him when his government made concessions toward the Palestinians.
Several analysts speculated that Benjamin Netanyahu was emotionally unable to sign off on a comprehensive peace deal with Israel's Arabs neighbors as long as his father was still alive, a notion the prime minister dismissed as "psychobabble."
In newspaper interviews late in life, Benzion Netanyahu was forceful in his skepticism of Mideast peace.
"The tendency to conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won't allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn't matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war," he told the Maariv daily in 2009. "The Arab citizens' goal is to destroy us. They don't deny that they want to destroy us."
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