How Netanyahu’s Father Adopted the View of Arabs as Savages

Benzion Netanyahu, the late father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, looked to historian Joseph Klausner as his intellectual mentor and fully embraced his view of Arabs as a nation of half-savages to be defended against

By Adi Armon

On December 19, 1919, the S.S. Ruslan anchored off of Jaffa port. The ship, later referred to a bit hyperbolically as “the Zionist Mayflower,” had set sail several weeks earlier from Odessa with hundreds of passengers on board, among them Joseph Klausner, who would become the mentor of Benzion Netanyahu. The poet Rachel Bluwstein was also on board, as were dancer and painter Baruch Agadati, architects Zeev Rechter and Yehuda Magidovitch, painter Yitzhak Frenkel; Yisrael Gurfinkel (later, Guri), who would go on to be the father of poet Haim Gouri; Rosa Cohen, mother-to-be of Yitzhak Rabin; and Moshe Glickson, who would go on to edit Haaretz from 1922 to 1937, and whose face “turned green” as the ship “swayed like a drunk,” in Klausner’s words. Klausner was 45 at the time. Netanyahu, who was born in Warsaw in 1910, and arrived in British Mandatory Palestine a few months later, was then 9.

Seven years earlier, Klausner, who was born in 1874, had visited Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt for the first time. In a series entitled “Olam Mithaveh: Rishmei Masa Be’Eretz Israel” (“An Emerging World: Impressions of Travels in Palestine”), published in installments in 1913-1915, in the journal Hashiloah, which Klausner edited, and later in the book “Am Va’aretz Kamim Litihiya” (“People and Land Come Back to Life,” 1944), Klausner described his impressions from the region and portrayed the Arabs who lived there – not only them, and not only negatively – as savages.

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