The subject of the Israeli film, Footnote, which has been running for several weeks in Toronto, is the conflict between an elderly Talmud scholar in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and his son, also an academic but less rigorous. At least one critic observed that theme was a deliberate allusion to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship to his father, Benzio, who died yesterday at the age of 102.
It seems entirely plausible that this was the case. To what extent the prime minister has been influenced by his hawkish father is anybody’s guess. He himself dismissed it as “psychobabble.” But perhaps he is not the best authority on the subject.
The father was certainly a remarkable scholar. He re-interpreted the Inquisition in The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain (1995). The predominant view had been that Jews were persecuted for secretly practicing their religion after pretending to convert to Roman Catholicism. Mr. Netanyahu, in 1,384 pages, offered evidence that most Jews in Spain had willingly become Catholics and were enthusiastic about their new religion.
Jews were persecuted, he concluded – many of them burned at the stake – for being perceived as an evil race rather than for anything they believed or had done. Jealousy over Jews’ success in the economy and at the royal court only fueled the oppression, he wrote. The book traced what he called “Jew hatred” to ancient Egypt, long before Christianity.
Though praised for its insights, the book was also criticized as having ignored standard sources and interpretations. Not a few reviewers noted that it seemed to look at long-ago cases of anti-Semitism through the rear-view mirror of the Holocaust.
The ingenious resolution in the film Footnote will, alas, not serve as a guide to the future of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies.
Source of the passage about Benzio Netanyahu: The New York Times, April 30