The Netanyahu clan, the Likud elite and leading political figures including President Shimon Peres gathered at a closed event in Jerusalem on Sunday to honor Prof. Ben-Tzion Netanyahu, the Prime Minister's father, on his 100th birthday.
In typical non-sentimental fashion, Prof. Netanyahu used the occasion at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center to deliver a stern, timely message of warning.
“From the Iranian side we hear the promise that in a short while – in a matter of days – an end will be put to the Zionist movement and there will be no more Zionists in the world,” he told the gathering. “One is supposed to conclude from this that the Jews of the Land of Israel will be annihilated, while the Jews of America, whose leaders refused to join the pressure on Iran, are being told in a hinted way that the annihilation of the Jews will not include them...”
“On the other hand, the Jewish people is making its position clear, and trusting its great military might. The Nation of Israel is showing the world today how a nation should behave when it stands before an existential threat: to look the danger in the eye; to weigh in a calm and collected fashion what should be done and what can be done; and to be ready to enter the fray at the moment the chances of success appear reasonable.”
Prof. Netanyahu concluded: “We must have the ability to stand firm mentally, which requires the presence of great powers of spirit. The People of Israel is showing the world today that it possesses such powers of spirit, and this is where my faith resides: an unqualified faith that our nation will fend off the danger that threatens its existence.”
The speakers at the centenary event included Yossi Achimeir, Director of the Jabotinsky Center, President Shimon Peres, and historian Prof. Yirmiyahu Yovel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the younger Netanyahu brother, Dr. Iddo Netanyahu, spoke admiringly of their father, and of their pride at being raised by him. The speakers' accounts of Prof. Netanyahu's character and work, and a videotaped interview with him that was screened in short sections between the speeches, combined to create a picture of a man with a sometimes-prophetic historical vision who has exerted tremendous personal influence on modern Jewish history through his own mental and political prowess and by virtue of the education and guidance he provided for his sons.
He was never as famous or directly influential as his two elder sons – the illustrious Lt.-Col. Yoni Netanyahu, who commanded the elite IDF forces in the 1976 Entebbe Raid in which he met his death, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – but at the event Sunday, it was clear that their accomplishments were in large part a result of the upbringing they received. The image that emerged of Prof. Netanyahu was that of a man of great power of intellect and character, as well as the courage to stand up for what he believed in when it was not popular.
In one of the evening's many amusing moments, Prime Minister Netanyahu used his speech to dispel what he said was a false media account of his childhood home as being ruled by 'Prussian-style' discipline. Rather, he said, when his father entertained important guests in the front part of the house, he and his brothers used to host boys from the entire neighborhood in their room in the back of the house. They would close the door, place a towel in the crack between it and the floor, turn off the lights – and proceed to engage in wild pillow-fights. When things got too loud, his mother Tzila would knock on the door and ask to keep the volume down, but the pillow fight went on.
Prof. Netanyahu has been vocally critical of his son Binyamin when he deemed that he had veered off the proper Zionist path. He was extremely critical of his son's agreement to transfer part of Hevron to Arab hands in the 1996 Wye Accords, and signed a petition that called the 2005 Gaza Disengagement – for which his son voted in the Knesset, though later opposed – “a crime against humanity.”