Benzion Netanyahu, a historian and father of the former Israeli prime minister, spent time at a number of U.S. academic institutions.
A satirical novel based on the true story of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s father searching for a job in academia in the United States has won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family by Joshua Cohen was described by the Pulitzer Prize board as “a mordant, linguistically deft historical novel about the ambiguities of the Jewish-American experience, presenting ideas and disputes as volatile as its tightly-wound plot.”
Historian and professor Benzion Netanyahu worked at a number of U.S. academic institutions.
He taught at Dropsie College outside Philadelphia, first as a professor of Hebrew language and literature, and chairman of the department (1957-1966); and as a professor of medieval Jewish history and Hebrew literature (1966-1968). He left for the University of Denver as a professor of Hebraic studies (1968-1971) and then moved to New York to edit a Jewish encyclopedia. There, he took a position at Cornell University as a professor of Judaic studies and became chairman of the department of Semitic languages and literature (1971-1975).
Following the death of his oldest son, Yonatan (“Yoni”), a leader of the Entebbe hostage rescue operation in July 1976, he and his family returned to Israel.
His middle son, Benjamin, is the leader of the opposition in the Knesset and the longtime former Israeli prime minister. His youngest son, Iddo, is an Israeli physician, author and playwright.
He later was made professor emeritus of Judaic studies at Cornell.
He died in 2012 at his home in Jerusalem at the age of 102.
In Cohen’s novel, published last year, Benzion visits a fictitious Corbin University in New York and applies for a faculty position. The book’s narrator is a Jewish historian and Corbin’s only Jewish professor, who is tasked with hosting the Netanyahus during their stay in New York.
This is not the book’s first award. The Netanyahus was named a Wall Street Journal best book of the year, a New York Times notable book of the year and a Kirkus best fiction book of the year.