Bibi loses his ideological rock - his father

By Anshel Pfeffer, May 3, 2012
Father and son: Benzion Netanyahu was an exacting parent to his political son, Benjamin

Father and son: Benzion Netanyahu was an exacting parent to his political son, Benjamin

Benzion Netanyahu, the pre-eminent historian of Jewish medieval Spain, who died on Monday at his home in Jerusalem, aged 102, was the man who most influenced the political outlook and ideology of his son, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Born in Warsaw in 1910, Benzion Mileikowski was the son of a Zionist rabbi and writer who moved his family in 1920 to Jerusalem, where Benzion went on to study history at the Hebrew University.

Alongside his studies, he became active in right-wing Zionist politics, especially the revisionist movement, the precursor of the Likud, and in 1939 left for America, where he became secretary to the movement's founder, Ze'ev Jabotinsky.

In 1949, following the establishment of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem but failed to find favour with Jabotinsky's heir, Menachem Begin, or with the faculty of the Hebrew University, which would not give him a post. He was convinced that he was ostracised for his steadfast political beliefs and found work as a senior editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia.

He had married Cilla (née Segal) in 1944 in New York, where their first son, Yonatan (Yoni), was born. Benjamin (Bibi) and Iddo were born in Jerusalem. To find a permanent academic post, Professor Netanyahu travelled frequently to work in the US, where the family spent most of the 1960s and 1970s.

Despite passing on to their sons the experience of being outcasts from the nation's elite, the Netanyahu parents encouraged them to return to Israel alone and join the IDF, where all three volunteered to serve in the elite unit Sayeret Matkal, which Lieutenant-Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu commanded during the 1976 Entebbe raid, in which he was killed. Following Yoni's death, the whole family returned to Israel.

Professor Netanyahu was an exacting parent and, even when his son became Prime Minister in 1996, was not always full of praise. In an interview in 1998, he said: "Perhaps he would have fitted the role of foreign minister more than head of state, but for now, I don't see anyone who can be better than him."

While Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, accepted the principle of a two-state solution, his father continued to claim that there was no Palestinian people with whom Israel could negotiate, and that any retreat from the territories captured in the Six-Day War would be dangerous and defeatist.

He also continued to believe that the Camp David peace accords with Egypt had been a mistake.

Last updated: 2:02pm, May 3 2012