'Prof. Netanyahu Deserved the Israel Prize'

Yossi Achimeir of the Jabotinsky Center says that the late renowned scholar should have received the Israel Prize. Why didn't he?

Elad Benari ,

Tender moment: Benzion Netanyahu and son.
Tender moment: Benzion Netanyahu and son.
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Yossi Achimeir, Director of the Jabotinsky Center, said that Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister's father who passed away at the age of 102 on Monday, should have been awarded the Israel Prize for his important research.

Achimeir told Arutz Sheva that Prof. Netanyahu had been “excluded by the Israeli academia and was not recognized by the academics in Israel his entire life.” When Prof. Netanyahu turned 100 two years ago, Achimeir sent a letter to the committee that decides on the winners of the Israel Prize, suggesting that the prize be awarded to Netanyahu to mark his 100th year. He said that he never received a response from the committee.

“If anyone deserved the Israel Prize it was Benzion Netanyahu,” said Achimeir,  adding that he believes this was because Netanyahu “bothered some of the inhabitants of the academic ivory tower, partly because of his [right wing, ed.] political views and his adherence to Jabotinsky's teachings, the doctrine of political Zionism."

On the flip side, Achimeir noted, while Prof. Netanyahu was excluded by the Israeli academia, he was greatly appreciated around the world. One example of this was in his monumental research work about the Inquisition, called “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain”, which was translated into various languages ​​and distributed in several editions around the world.

Among his many academic achievements, Prof. Netanyahu was chief editor of the prestigious Encyclopaedia Hebraica for ten years and served as professor of Hebrew language and literature and professor of medieval Jewish history and Hebrew literature in several universities in the U.S. He was professor emeritus at Columbia University. 

“There were receptions for him all over the world, he was given respect around the world, and only here he was ignored,” Achimeir said, adding that one reason that Prof. Netanyahu did not receive the prize in his last years may have been a fear by those who award it that people might say he received it because he is the prime minister’s father. He added that this reason is unjustified, in his opinion.

Achimeir added that Prof. Netanyahu never sought the respect he did not get in Israel. “He was not looking to be recognized here. He had a place in universities in the United States. There, he wrote his research and made his views public without fear. He was not looking for respect and honor but for depth and honesty.”

He said that he believes this can be corrected after Netanyahu’s death, if his works are taught and republished. “This is a great man whose absence will be felt,” concluded Achimeir.