Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, the father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, died Monday morning in Jerusalem at the age of 102.
A doctor working for the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the death. The funeral was scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot cemetery.
Netanyahu, a writer and professor of Jewish-Spanish history, was seen as a major influence on the prime minister’s world view. He was considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Jewish life in Spain in the Middle Ages. He was also editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica.
Among the books he wrote were “Don Isaac Abravanel, statesman & philosopher,” “The Marranos from Spain” and “The origins of the Inquisition in fifteenth Century Spain.”
President Shimon Peres said Netanyahu was “a great historian and a great Jew.” Speaking at a school, Peres had the students stand for a moment of silence in his memory.
Born Benzion Mileikowsky in Warsaw, Poland, in 1910 and moving to Mandatory Palestine in 1920, Netanyahu was a devout follower of revisionist Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky, who advocated Jewish military strength and the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. Netanyahu served as his personal aide until Jabotinsky’s death in 1940.
He then edited right-wing Jewish publications and earned a Ph.D in history from Dropsie College in Philadelphia. Later, he was a professor of Jewish history and Hebrew literature at the University of Denver and Cornell University, where he served as chairman of the department of Semitic languages and literature.
He and his wife Tzila had three sons, Benjamin, Yoni, who was killed in an operation to free Israeli hostages from an Entebbe, Uganda airport in 1976, and Iddo, a doctor and playwright.
Benjamin Netanyahu visited his father Sunday night, after it became clear his condition was deteriorating.
Two weeks ago, paramedics were called to his Jerusalem apartment after he was in pain. First responders treated him on-site and said he was in good condition.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told Israel Radio Monday that Netanyahu had influenced his sons’ opinions and views on Zionism. His hard-line right-wing leanings, though, prevented him from going into politics.
“It was hard for [Benjamin’s] father to be a politican because he could not give up on his views,” Rivlin said.
He added that Benzion Netanyahu had a particularly hard time watching his son make political compromises, such as the Hebron agreement to partially cede control of the city.
In newspaper interviews late in life, Benzion Netanyahu was forceful in his skepticism of Mideast peace.
“The tendency to conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won’t allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn’t matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war,” he told the Maariv daily in 2009. “The Arab citizens’ goal is to destroy us. They don’t deny that they want to destroy us.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report