Not many people — not even many Israelis — know that the Netanyahu family lived for a time in Philadelphia, when Benzion Netanyahu was a visiting professor at Gratz University. Many Jews in the Philly area cherish the Netanyahu connection, especially today when Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister of Israel. He got his start in the City of Brotherly Love, and it was there that the Netanyahu boys got a true feeling for the American Jewish community.
For Jews outside Philadelphia, his death in the Entebbe raid made Yoni Netanyahu a household name and a Zionist poster child. The year of the operation, 1976, was “the year of Yoni,” when newborns in Israel and around the world were named for the fallen hero who died freeing Jews in unknown Uganda, ruled by comic-book villain Idi Amin.
The symbolism of Entebbe has carried much weight over the years — namely that wherever Jews are in need, the IDF will be there to save them. The world was an awe of the daring, well-calculated rescue mission that succeeded in bringing all the prisoners home safely, with the exception of one casualty. Israeli Hollywood producer Menahem Golan and others in Hollywood took inspiration from the heroic tale to create a plethora of Delta Force–based movies starring such action stars as Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, and Chuck Norris.
However, as we mark the 35th anniversary of the raid on Entebbe — which later became known as “Operation Yonatan,” in honor of Yoni Netanyahu — the world seems to have forgotten its narrative of Israeli heroism. Even some Israelis have moved away from this history in favor of the Palestinian narrative, which argues that the conflict would end if Israelis were more understanding and more supportive of the Palestinian cause, and that the core of the problem is land issues, namely settlements. A similar message has been heard from the Obama administration.
For example, the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence — which presents itself as the moral compass of the IDF and by extension the nation — recently published a book with testimonials of IDF soldiers highlighting the “atrocities of the IDF” and the clandestine “inhumane” activities that the IDF employs during military raids. Essentially, the book seeks to highlight every possible flaw the IDF and the state of Israel have.
The Zionist narrative anchors itself in history, from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising to the Six Day War, and of course Operation Yonatan. Unfortunately, these stories are fading in favor of flotillas and so-called Israeli massacres of Palestinians. In the 35 years since the Entebbe raid, Israel has continued to fight an asymmetrical war with Hamas and Hezbollah, and although the technology has greatly improved, the conviction of these groups when it comes to Israel’s destruction has not diminished. Just the opposite, it has actually increased through religious validation since the days of Idi Amin and Yasir Arafat.
Winning back the pro-Israel narrative means going back to basics and remembering what Yoni and his comrades-in-arms did to preserve and defend the Jewish people. The growing gap between Jewish identity and Israel will only be bridged by teaching the real history of Israel and Zionism, and not forgetting those who sacrificed in defense of those principles.
— Asaf Romirowsky is a Philadelphia-based Middle East analyst, and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum.