Jonathan Spyer: Benzion Netanyahu was a Scholar, Not an Underground Militant

Roundup: Media's Take

Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, who died Monday at his home in Jerusalem at age 102, was an outsider twice over in terms of Israeli political life and the tightly knit ideological cliques that shaped the Jewish democracy in its early years. The fact that his second son has become the dominant leader of the Israeli right over the last two decades is testimony to the fading importance of these cliques and the more fluid politics that has replaced them.

As a young immigrant living in the land of Israel—Benzion moved from Poland in 1920 at age 10—he became involved with the militant Revisionist Zionist movement of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, editing a series of Revisionist newspapers during the 1930s and 1940s. He also served as the private secretary to Jabotinsky during the movement leader’s final years.

Benzion Netanyahu’s affiliation with Jabotinsky certainly didn’t make him popular in the Israel of the 1950s. At that time, Israel was dominated by the Labor Party of David Ben-Gurion, and it wasn’t a friendly environment for veterans of the Revisionist movement and its various military undergrounds, like the Irgun.

Many veterans of the Zionist right wing made their way to the United States. Benzion was one. And like many of them, Benzion had a career as an academic that flourished alongside his standing as a prominent Revisionist leader in the United States. (It is worth noting that several sons of such veterans have gone on to make prominent names for themselves in contemporary American political life: Rahm and Ari Emmanuel are sons of an Irgun fighter from Jerusalem, and J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami is the son of prominent Irgun activist Yitzhak Ben-Ami.)...

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