Born Benzion Mileikowsky in Warsaw, Poland, Netanyahu was a devout follower of revisionist Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky, who advocated Jewish military strength and the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. Netanyahu served as his personal aide until Jabotinsky's death in 1940.
He then edited right-wing Jewish publications and earned a Ph.D in history from Dropsie College in Philadelphia. Later, he was a professor of Jewish history and Hebrew literature at the University of Denver and Cornell University, where he served as chairman of the department of Semitic languages and literature.
He was best known in academic circles for his research into the medieval inquisition against the Jews of Spain.
Due to his academic career, his family frequently moved between the United States and Israel.
Netanyahu and his wife, Tzila, had three sons: Yonatan, Benjamin and Ido, all of whom served in the same elite Israeli military commando unit. Yonatan, known as Yoni, commanded the Sayeret Matkal unit and was killed in action during a daring 1976 hostage rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda.
Following his death, Netanyahu returned to Israel full-time. His middle son Benjamin, nicknamed Bibi, went into politics and was elected prime minister of Israel in 1996 and again in 2009. Iddo, the youngest of the three, is a radiologist and writer.
Netanyahu is believed to have had great influence over his son's politics and openly criticized him when his government made concessions toward the Palestinians.
Several analysts speculated that Benjamin Netanyahu was emotionally unable to sign off on a comprehensive peace deal with Israel's Arabs neighbors as long as his father was still alive, a notion the prime minister dismissed as "psychobabble."
In newspaper interviews late in life, Benzion Netanyahu was forceful in his skepticism of Mideast peace.
"The tendency to conflict is in the essence of the Arab. He is an enemy by essence. His personality won't allow him any compromise or agreement. It doesn't matter what kind of resistance he will meet, what price he will pay. His existence is one of perpetual war," he told the Maariv daily in 2009. "The Arab citizens' goal is to destroy us. They don't deny that they want to destroy us."