Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed Tuesday night that although his family hailed from Eastern Europe before immigrating to Israel decades ago, he is in fact part Sephardic, tracing his family back to Jews from Spain.
Netanyahu explained his family tree’s varied roots during the opening of a new wing at Beit Hatfutsot, the Diaspora-themed Museum of the Jewish People.
During the ceremony, Beit Hatfusot chairwoman Irina Nevzlin presented Netanyahu with a copy of his family tree. The prime minister took a quick look and said it needed to be corrected.
“My brother, Ido, is a writer and doctor,” Netanyahu explained. “He was approached by people who build family trees using DNA.”
“Their thesis was that the Jews of Lithuania, and us, came from a Lithuanian family descended from the Vilna Gaon, which has a Sephardic Jewish foundation,” he continued, referring to the 18th century Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, a landmark figure in Ashkenazi Jewish history.
“He did a saliva test, and sure enough, it came out that at least some of that tree needs to be attributed to the Jews of Spain. Of course, they let me, as the chairman of Likud, know that 30 years too late, but that shows that all of Jews are kin, and I think that is one of the biggest lessons to come from this place, this institute. You can see the family of the Jewish people.”
Likud has long been seen as a political home for Jews of Sephardic and Middle Eastern extraction, who for decades complained of marginalization by the European-descended Zionist elite hailing from the country’s Labor and Mapai parties in the country’s salad days.
Netanyahu’s father Benzion Netanyahu, who was born in Poland, was an expert on the Spanish Inquisition and the Jews of Iberia.
Clashes between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities, which have markedly different customs though they share a religion, are a major feature of Jewish and Israeli culture.
Recent research has used DNA testing to tie together the origins of the two branches of Judaism to show a common source.