The Jewish Press reports: Benzion Netanyahu – historian, one-time political activist and father of Israel’s prime minister – died Monday in Jerusalem at 102. An accomplished scholar and the patriarch of one of Israel’s most important political families, he also played a surprising and little-known role in American political history.
Netanyahu was born in Poland in 1910 to a family deeply immersed in the world of religious Zionism. His father, Rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky, a popular Zionist preacher, brought the family to British-ruled Palestine in 1920. He Hebraicized the family name to Netanyahu.
In the wake of the Palestinian Arab riots of 1929, Netanyahu was attracted to the militant wing of the Zionist movement, Revisionist Zionism, headed by Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky. His literary talents were recognized early on, and he served as editor-in-chief of the Revisionist newspaper HaYarden in the 1930s.
In 1940, Jabotinsky sent several of his leading disciples, including Netanyahu and future Knesset member Hillel Kook (better known as Peter Bergson), to the United States to seek funds and public support for the rescue of Europe’s Jews and creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
“It was a brand new world for us,” Netanyahu told me in one of my interviews with him. “I had never been to America. But I had to learn quickly – there was no time. The world of European Jewry was going up in flames.”
Netanyahu became executive director of the U.S. wing of the Revisionist Zionist movement and editor of its magazine, Zionews. His essays were notable for their passion, political insights and high level of fluency in a language he only recently had mastered. One 1944 editorial criticized mainstream Jewish leaders as “too cautious, too appeasing, and too ready to swallow the meaningless statements of sympathy that [are] issued from high places.”