A new movie about Yoni Netanyahu called Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story [www.followmethemovie.com] played in a suburban Philadelphia suburb late in July just minutes away from where the hero of the Entebbe operation went to high school in the 1960s.
Israeli Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu’s older brother was named Jonathan (Yonatan) Netanyahu and isoften remembered as Yoni. Yoni was killed in action fightinganti-Israel terrorists on July 4, 1976 just as the world’s oldestdemocracy celebrated its Bicentennial. Yoni died in a heroic effortwhich freed over a hundred hijacked hostages in Entebbe,Uganda and saved their lives. America’s commemoration of liberty sharedthe world’s headlines with Israel’s celebration of the liberation ofthe hostages.
Tragically, it seems Follow Me is struggling to find an audience and a movie distribution partner who has the ability to get it into theaters throughout the U.S. as the film deserves. And this is surprising because the movie has generated numerous awards and the filmmakers are highy accomplished and were previously responsible for the wonderful documentaries Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray and Paper Clips.
With public pressure perhaps this movie too can be aired PBS and as Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray has. Yoni Netanyahu’s story needs to be recalled and until the movie reachesTV or is available on DVD a great way to start learning about him is through the collection of his letters published as (Self Portrait of a Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu and other books.
Below is a surveyof a handful of books published in English about Yoni Netanyahu and thedaring counter-terrorism hostage rescue operation at Entebbe. Yoni was the commander of the assault and was the only Israeli commando killed in battle.
90 Minutes at Entebbe By William Stevenson with Uri Dan (Bantam Books, 1976) Themost popular account of the operation, it was written by veteranjournalists and rushed to press just weeks after the rescue. Whilebeing highly readable, it lacks depth. Despite the title there is morehere bout Israeli government decisions than insight into the fightingon the ground. A good summary is given of the terrorist PFLPorganization. It is the only book of the ones listed here that providestranscripts of the highly disturbing United Nations “debate” on“(A)ggression of Zionist Israel against the sovereignty and territorialintegrity of Uganda.” Transcripts of phone conversations between anIsraeli colonel and Uganda’s brutal dictator Idi Amin are also given. Entebbe, The Jonathan Netanyahu Story, A Defining Moment in the War on Terror By Iddo Netanyahu (Balfour Books, 2003) Iddois the youngest of the three Netanyahu brothers. His service inIsrael’s commando services and his unique access to its veterans andthe history of Netanyahu family as well as the perspective of 25 yearsmake the book the most authoritative. The narrative is more about theoperation than a biography of Yoni. Originally published in Israel, itwas very popular there. Excellent diagrams and solid endnotes make thework complete.
Entebbe Rescue By Yeshayahu Ben-Porat, Eitan Haber, Zeev Schiff (Dell, 1977) Translated from an Israeli book, it is far less readable than 90 Minutes at Entebbeand lacks focus. Significantly, this book’s biographical sketch of Yonihas a selection of several excellent passages from letters Yoni wrotethat are also included in Self Portrait of a Hero (see below). Self Portrait of a Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu Notes by Benjamin and Iddo Netanyahu (Random House, 1980) Amust read; it contains Yoni’s letters to family and friends from 1963when he first entered high school in the Philadelphia suburb ofCheltenham to just days before the Entebbe raid. Hisintellect, patriotism, compassion, dedication to duty and leadershipare on full display, amplifying the loss of someone who had just turned30. Yoni: Hero of Entebbe By Max Hastings (The Dial Press, 1979) The only full length biography of Yoni in English, this is the work of a talented journalist. Covering far more than Entebbe,this excellent narrative gives accounts of Yoni’s battles in the SixDay War, the Yom Kippur War and in anti-terrorist actions against thePLO in Lebanon. Also depicted is Yoni’s decision to abandon hisacademic pursuits in order to return to active duty as an officer inthe elite commando forces.
Two books for younger readers were published and should be pointed out. They are Raid at Entebbe by Ira Peck, published by Scholastic in 1977, and Yoni Netanyahu: Commando at Entebbe by Devra Newberger Speargen, published by the Jewish Publication Society in 1997. The importance of introducing Yoni and the story of Entebbeto young people is vital. In these challenging times young peopledesperately need role models that encourage determination and idealism- tragically, there are just too few such heroes. As Natan Sharanskytold The Jerusalem Post in 2001, “When I was in (Soviet) prison, when I heard the engine of some airplane, I immediately was thinking of Entebbe, and it gave me confidence…” Sharansky also discusses this in his 1988 memoir Fear No Evil.
Steven Friedman,a classmate of Yoni’s at Cheltenham High School, issued some remarks inadvance of a 2006 Philadelphia memorial lecture in honor of Yoni andFriedman’s remarks are well worth recalling.
Friedman stated, “It is important to honor and recall the bold and daring EntebbeRaid and its leader, Yoni Netanyahu, as Israel and the West confrontthe same anti-Western and anti-Israel radical Islamic terrorism in theMiddle East and Iraq. The lessons of Entebbe are fullyapplicable in the present – and should guide the overall policy of boldaction, no negotiation, and use of decisive strategic military force todeal with Islamic terrorism.”
Moshe Phillips is the president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans For aSafe Israel / AFSI. The chapter’s blog can be found at http://phillyafsi.blogtownhall.comand Moshe tweets at http://twitter.com/MoshePhillips.