Benzion Netanyahu, the father of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, passed away last night at the age of 102, and was laid to rest today in Jerusalem.
The prime minister eulogized his father as a man who knew “how to identify danger in time” — a quality, his father told him, “that our people lost while in exile.” Benzion also taught him to “face reality head on” and “draw the necessary conclusions.”
Benzion, said his son, “could decipher the past and understand the future.” After all, the prime minister said his father had told him, “If you cannot understand the past, then you cannot understand the present. And those who cannot understand the present cannot hope to decode the future.”
Those politically poignant reminiscences came at the end of a eulogy that was largely more personal — in which the prime minister spoke adoringly of his father, family life, his and his two brothers’ upbringing, the strength with which Benzion and his late wife Tzila bore the death of their eldest son Yoni (the IDF commander who was the sole Israeli fatality of the legendary Israeli rescue raid at Entebbe in 1976), and of Benzion’s extraordinary academic scholarship.
A historian who was considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Jewish life in Spain in the Middle Ages, Benzion was also editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica.
The prime minister recounted the trauma of Yoni’s death, recalling how he had traveled “seven hellish hours” from Boston, where he was studying, to New York, to tell his parents the terrible news. “I saw him through the glass, in typical pose with his hands clasped behind his back.” His father saw him, and asked, “with surprise, ‘What are you doing here, Bibi?’” And then in an instant, Benzion realized why he had come, “and he let out a cry of such anguish… that I will remember for as long as I live.”
The PM said his father had shown him what commitment was, both to the state and to family, and also contributed to the establishment of the Jewish state. The PM mentioned that his father traveled to London to persuade Jabotinsky to relocate to the United States and from there mobilize support for the Jewish state.
“Jabotinsky died shortly after you arrived in the US, but you did not lose hope and approached dozens of senators, congressman and American leaders such as (Dwight D.) Eisenhower. You told them that the Jewish state would be established and that it would not be defeated by the Arabs,” the PM said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu then addressed his late father, saying: “Years before Herzl’s predictions were realized you understood that he was right. When you were 27 you wrote that Herzl saw the catastrophe and the looming destruction of the nation. You wrote that a few years before the Second World War and the Holocaust.
Not only did you agree with Herzl over the dangers in store, you worked to keep it at bay and contributed to the foundation of the State of Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu also mentioned the hardships his parents faced after his brother Yoni was killed in Entebbe. “Your foresight led you, 35 years ago, after Yoni was killed, to focus an international intellectual effort against global terror. You said that the thing standing behind terror was policy and then terror could be vanquished.
“Father, those attributes, of foresight, and others, I could not understand as a little boy growing up in the 50s. Slowly, slowly, things became clear to me and to Iddo as we grew older.”
Netanyahu expressed the admiration he had for his parents and the way they lived their lives after his brother’s death. “You carried, both of you, your grief with grace. I don’t know where you found the strength to go on living with your sorrow.”
The prime minister then said: “Father, on this day that I say goodbye to you, I wish to tell you the same words that Yoni wrote to you 46 years ago: I have never told you how proud I am that you are the person you are and that I am your son.”
President Shimon Peres said during the funeral: “We have lost a great teacher who left behind a leader for his people.”
Peres then turned to the prime minister and said: “Bibi, your father wrote about history and you are making it with the same perception and heritage. I know that your heart is broken but your spirit is strong.”