Historian Ben-Zion Netanyahu Dies at 102

Ben-Zion Netanyahu, a noted Jewish historian and Zionist thinker, and father of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has died.

Netanyahu died early Monday morning at his home in Jerusalem. He was 102.

Benjamin Netanyahu visited his father for the last time on Sunday evening, a statement issued Monday from the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Netanyahu was born Ben-Zion Mileikowsky in Warsaw in 1910, and immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1920.

Netanyahu studied at the David Yellin Teachers’ College and later at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research focused on the history of the medieval Spanish Jewish community and the history of Zionism. Among his books are a biography of Don Isaac Abravanel; a history of the Spanish Marranos; and his major work, “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain.” He also authored “The Founding Fathers of Zionism,” about the lives of the founders of political Zionism — Leon Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Israel Zangwill and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Netanyahu was the editor-in-chief of the Hebrew Encyclopedia for over a decade beginning in the 1950s. He served as Professor of Jewish Studies at various universities in the United States and concluded his academic career as professor emeritus at Cornell University.

From his time as a student in Jerusalem, he was involved in public Zionist activities. He was a supporter of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and edited a newspaper that also featured Prof. Joseph Klausner and poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg on its staff.

In 1939, Netanyahu traveled to London and persuaded Jabotinsky to relocate to the United States and from there mobilize support for the Jewish state. Jabotinsky died shortly after their arrival in the U.S.; Netanyahu continued to raise support for the Jewish state throughout the war and afterward.

In this context, he met with many U.S. Jewish leaders of the period, as well as with senators, congressmen, authors, poets and leaders. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel, he returned from the United States and moved with his young family to Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood.

He was married to his wife Tzila, who died in 2000, for over 50 years. He was predeceased by son Yonatan, who was killed during Operation Yonatan at Entebbe, Uganda, and is survived by Benjamin, the prime minister of Israel, and Ido, a doctor, author and playwright.

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Historian Ben-Zion Netanyahu Dies at 102

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