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Benzion Netanyahu, Israeli scholar, dies

Professor Benzion Netanyahu, father of Israeli Prime Minister

Professor Benzion Netanyahu, father of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (July 8, 2011) Credit: Getty Images/GPO

JERUSALEM -- Historian Benzion Netanyahu, the father of the Israeli prime minister and a scholar of the Spanish Inquisition, died in Jerusalem early yesterday. He was 102.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who frequently cited his father's advice about being vigilant toward Israel's enemies, visited at his bedside just hours before he died, the prime minister's office said in a text message. Burial was scheduled for yesterday at Jerusalem's Har Hamenuchot cemetery.

The elder Netanyahu was born in Poland and moved to British-ruled Palestine in 1920 with his parents at 10.

Before the state of Israel was founded in 1948, he was active in the Revisionist Movement, a forerunner of the Likud Party his son leads.

He was a top aide to Revisionist leader Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the rival of Labor Zionist chief David Ben- Gurion, who became Israel's first prime minister.

"Professor Netanyahu was an important scholar, both profound and original," Education Minister Gideon Saar told Israel Radio. He was "a great historian and a great Jew," President Shimon Peres said in broadcast remarks.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich postponed a motion of no-confidence in Netanyahu's government, which had been scheduled for yesterday, after the death was announced, Army Radio said.

Netanyahu's father appeared with him in a 2009 election campaign commercial, showing the two playing chess at home. "You need the steadfastness to act, to do the unpopular thing that may ultimately save the country," Netanyahu said in the ad after his father moved a piece across the board.

The elder Netanyahu was editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Hebraica and taught at several schools, including Dropsie College in Philadelphia and Cornell University in Ithaca. Among his published works were "The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain" and "The Founding Fathers of Zionism."

Yonatan Netanyahu, his older son, was killed in 1976 when he led a commando rescue of hostages from a hijacked Air France plane at Uganda's Entebbe airport.

Ido Netanyahu, his younger son, is a doctor and playwright. His wife, Cela, died in 2000.

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