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A Hero's Story: Yoni Netanyahu

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By Moshe Phillips - August 22, 2012

A new movie about Yoni Netanyahu called Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story [] 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 Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother was named Jonathan (Yonatan) Netanyahu and is often remembered as Yoni. Yoni was killed in action fighting anti-Israel terrorists on July 4, 1976 just as the world’s oldest democracy celebrated its Bicentennial. Yoni died in a heroic effort which freed over a hundred hijacked hostages in Entebbe, Uganda and saved their lives. America’s commemoration of liberty shared the world’s headlines with Israel’s celebration of the liberation of the 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 survey of a handful of books published in English about Yoni Netanyahu and the daring 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)
The most popular account of the operation, it was written by veteran journalists and rushed to press just weeks after the rescue. While being highly readable, it lacks depth. Despite the title there is more here bout Israeli government decisions than insight into the fighting on the ground. A good summary is given of the terrorist PFLP organization. It is the only book of the ones listed here that provides transcripts of the highly disturbing United Nations “debate” on “(A)ggression of Zionist Israel against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uganda.” Transcripts of phone conversations between an Israeli 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)
Iddo is the youngest of the three Netanyahu brothers. His service in Israel’s commando services and his unique access to its veterans and the history of Netanyahu family as well as the perspective of 25 years make the book the most authoritative. The narrative is more about the operation than a biography of Yoni. Originally published in Israel, it was very popular there. Excellent diagrams and solid endnotes make the work 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 Entebbe and lacks focus. Significantly, this book’s biographical sketch of Yoni has a selection of several excellent passages from letters Yoni wrote that 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)
A must read; it contains Yoni’s letters to family and friends from 1963 when he first entered high school in the Philadelphia suburb of Cheltenham to just days before the Entebbe raid. His intellect, patriotism, compassion, dedication to duty and leadership are on full display, amplifying the loss of someone who had just turned 30.

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 Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and in anti-terrorist actions against the PLO in Lebanon. Also depicted is Yoni’s decision to abandon his academic pursuits in order to return to active duty as an officer in the 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 Entebbe to young people is vital. In these challenging times young people desperately need role models that encourage determination and idealism - tragically, there are just too few such heroes. As Natan Sharansky told 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 in advance of a 2006 Philadelphia memorial lecture in honor of Yoni and Friedman’s remarks are well worth recalling.

Friedman stated, “It is important to honor and recall the bold and daring Entebbe Raid and its leader, Yoni Netanyahu, as Israel and the West confront the same anti-Western and anti-Israel radical Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and Iraq. The lessons of Entebbe are fully applicable in the present – and should guide the overall policy of bold action, no negotiation, and use of decisive strategic military force to deal with Islamic terrorism.”

Moshe Phillips is the president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans For a Safe Israel / AFSI. The chapter's blog can be found at and Moshe tweets at
The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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