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Netanyahu’s Father Honored at 92Y Panel

Paying tribute to Dr. Benzion Netanyahu on his 102 birthday

Stephanie Butnick
March 06, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be getting all the attention today during the AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., but two days ago the spotlight was on his father, Dr. Benzion Netanyahu, at a tribute for his 102nd birthday at the 92Y.

The panel event centered on Dr. Netanyahu’s book The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain, in which Netanyahu made the controversial argument that the conversos, descended from Spanish converts to Christianity who were persecuted during the Spanish Inquistion, were not persecuted for secretly practicing Judaism, as was widely believed, but were in fact targeted for their Jewish roots. The argument hinged on his assertion that the conversos were actually faithful Christians. Jason Epstein, Netanyahu’s friend and the book’s editor, moderated a discussion between two historians, Professor Ángel Alcalá and Dr. Jonathan Ray, who spoke about the impact of Netanyahu’s theory.

Yet for the event’s erudite panelists and sophisticated subject matter, the most touching moments came from the Netanyahu family. The event opened with a video address from the prime minister—who was originally slated to appear but was unable to make it to the Sunday morning event, presumably due to an AIPAC scheduling conflict—during which he spoke fondly of his father, and of his family. His brother, physician and playwright Iddo Netanyahu, took the stage after the panel and discussed what he referred to as his father’s 1,400 page magnum opus. He pointed out that it was at the age of 88 that his father finally achieved real fame in his field, noting that “he never sought fame for its own sake.”

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.