Benzion Netanyahu, the Altalena, and Me

Looking back at the founding moments of the state of Israel with the father of the current prime minister.

July 12, 2017 | Atar Hadari
About the author: Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.

The Altalena on fire after being shelled near Tel Aviv in June 1948. Wikipedia.

For most of the period between 9/11 and Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza I lived in Israel, the last couple of years in Jerusalem. By a series of coincidences, and because Israel is a very small country, I found myself working for Benzion Netanyahu, translating some of his old Hebrew articles for an English-language collection eventually published as The Founding Fathers of Zionism. Benzion was a historian of Spanish Jewry who, having failed to secure tenure at Hebrew University, had taught for years in the U.S. and subsequently published a biography of the late-medieval Spanish rabbi and courtier Don Isaac Abravanel and a monumental history, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain.

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