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Monday, April 30, 2012

Ben Zion Netanyahu z"l (Binyamin Netanyahu's father passes away)

Ben Zion Netanyahu, the father of Binyamin Netanyahu passed away this morning. Professor Netanyahu, a prominent scholar of the history of Jews in Spain, and the co-author of the Hebrew encyclopedia, was 102 years old.

I'd like to return to a post I did in 2010 in which I discussed the influence that Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu had on his son Binyamin.
[W]ould Netanyahu, a prime minister with an acute understanding of the essential role America plays in securing the existence of Israel (Netanyahu is a graduate of both Cheltenham High School, outside Philadelphia, and MIT, and is the most Americanized prime minister in Israel’s history, more so even than the Milwaukee-raised Golda Meir), actually take a chance on permanently alienating American affection in order to make a high-risk attempt at stopping Iran? If Iran retaliates against American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, the consequences for Israel’s relationship with America’s military leadership could be catastrophic. (Of course, Netanyahu would be risking more than his relationship with the United States: a strike on Iran, Israeli intelligence officials believe, could provoke all-out retaliation by Iran’s Lebanese subsidiary, Hezbollah, which now possesses, by most intelligence estimates, as many as 45,000 rockets—at least three times as many as it had in the summer of 2006, during the last round of fighting between the group and Israel.)

“The only reason Bibi [Netanyahu] would place Israel’s relationship with America in total jeopardy is if he thinks that Iran represents a threat like the Shoah,” an Israeli official who spends considerable time with the prime minister told me. “In World War II, the Jews had no power to stop Hitler from annihilating us. Six million were slaughtered. Today, 6 million Jews live in Israel, and someone is threatening them with annihilation. But now we have the power to stop them. Bibi knows that this is the choice.”

Numerous Israeli commentators and analysts have pointed out to me that Netanyahu is not unique in his understanding of this challenge; several of the prime ministers who preceded him cast Iran’s threat in similarly existential terms. Still, Netanyahu is different. “He has a deep sense of his role in Jewish history,” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told me.

To understand why Netanyahu possesses this deep sense—and why his understanding of Jewish history might lead him to attack Iran, even over Obama’s objections—it is necessary to understand Ben-Zion Netanyahu, his 100-year-old father.

BEN-ZION NetanyAHU—his first name means “son of Zion”—is the world’s foremost historian of the Spanish Inquisition and a onetime secretary to Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of the intractable, “revisionist” branch of Zionism. He is father to a tragic Israeli hero, Yonatan Netanyahu, who died while freeing the Jewish hostages at Entebbe in 1976; and also father to Benjamin, who strives for greatness in his father’s eyes but has, on occasion, disappointed him, notably when he acquiesced, in his first term as prime minister in the late 1990s, to American pressure and withdrew Israeli forces from much of the West Bank city of Hebron, Judaism’s second-holiest city. Benjamin Netanyahu is not known in most quarters for his pliability on matters concerning Palestinians, though he has been trying lately to meet at least some of Barack Obama’s demands that he move the peace process forward.

“Always in the back of Bibi’s mind is Ben-Zion,” one of the prime minister’s friends told me. “He worries that his father will think he is weak.”
Yet another reason for all Israelis to pray for Ben Zion's health and well being....
Ben-Zion Netanyahu’s most important work, The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th-Century Spain, upended the scholarly consensus on the roots of that bleak chapter in Jewish history. He argued that Spanish hatred of Jews was spurred by the principle of limpieza de sangre, or the purity of blood; it was proto-Nazi thought, in other words, not mere theology, that motivated the Inquisition. Ben-Zion also argued that the Inquisition corresponds to the axiom that anti-Semitic persecution is preceded, in all cases, by carefully scripted and lengthy dehumanization campaigns meant to ensure the efficient eventual elimination of Jews. To him, the lessons of Jewish history are plain and insistent.
The original source for that quote was a lengthy article that Jeffrey Goldberg did about Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Iranian nuclear threat, which may be found here.

Here's another curious thing: Israel Radio reported that Professor Netanyahu - who moved back and forth between the United States and Israel after the State was established - never really fit into Israeli academia because of his hawkish political views. What a shock.... I wish the apple would stay closer to the tree.

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2 Comments:

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Ashan said...

An amazing man and scholar. May Ben-Zion Netanyahu's memory be for a blessing.

 
At 10:51 PM, Blogger Paul W said...

My deepest sympathies for the family of this great Israeli and Jew. I hope that they can take comfort in all that he did for them and other Jews during his life, and not be too saddened by the fact that he is no longer with us.

 

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