The election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's next prime minister cast
MIT, and his student days here, into the headlines.
Mr. Netanyahu, who went by the surname Nitay while an MIT student, was
at the Institute from September 1972 to May 1976. He proved very much to
be a young man in a hurry as he earned two degrees-in architecture and
management-and was on his way to a doctorate in political science before
ending his studies abruptly to return to Israel in June 1976. That
followed the death of his older brother, Yonatan, in a commando raid
that freed passengers on a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda.
It also marked the beginning of his career in politics.
"He made it clear that he didn't have four years to get an undergraduate
degree," said Professor Emeritus Leon B. Groisser of the Department of
Architecture, recalling the day Mr. Netanyahu showed up in his office as
a 23-year-old freshman and Israeli war veteran.
"He didn't say it with bravado," said Professor Groisser, who served as
Mr. Netanyahu's faculty advisor. "He said it as fact. He proceeded to
overload and he did very well."
Mr. Netanyahu, the son of a Cornell University professor, had spent most
of his teenage years in the United States. He returned to Israel for
army duty, serving five years in an elite commando unit and reached the
rank of captain, before coming to MIT.
Just a year after beginning his studies at MIT, in October 1973, he
returned to Israel for military service when war broke out in the Middle
East and did not return to MIT until mid-November, a span of 40 days. He
made up his missing course work during the January break.
In interviews with The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and other media
outlets, including national television, Professor Groisser traced Mr.
Netanyahu's fast-track experience at MIT. Most of the quotes in this
article are taken from those interviews.
Impressed by Mr. Netanyahu's seriousness, Professor Groisser said, he
broke his own policy and let the Israeli student take a double course
load that first semester in 1972. When he showed he could handle the
work, Mr. Netanyahu was permitted to continue with the double-load,
enabling him-despite the break for war duty-to obtain the SB in
architecture (art and design) in 2 and 1/2 years, in February 1975.
"He did superbly," recalled Professor Groisser. "He was very bright.
Organized. Strong. Powerful. He knew what he wanted to do and how to get
it done. He's not the flippant, superficial person I keep reading about
in the newspapers. He was organized and committed."
Without breaking stride, Mr. Netanyahu, known to his friends as Bibi,
went on to his studies at the Sloan School, co-authoring a nearly 100-
page thesis and earning the SM in management in May, 1976.
By this time, however, Professor Groisser recalled, Mr. Netanyahu had
completed a quarter of a thesis that would have earned him the SM in
architecture, had taken four subjects in political science and had been
admitted to the doctoral program in the Department of Political Science.
"He was making great progress in all these areas," Professor Groisser
said. "What started as a double load had become a triple load."
Mr. Netanyahu's management thesis, written with Zeev Zurr of Tel Aviv
University, was titled, "Computerization in the Newspaper Industry."
In the document-the thesis advisor was Professor Lester C. Thurow-Mr.
Netanyahu proved quite prescient about the impact of computers on
"Two related trends are discernible in the current computerization
process," he wrote. "First, increased sophistication of the separate
computerized functions. Second, integration of the separate systems into
a unified process. When such an integration will be achieved, it will
radically alter the rigid sequence and character of the traditional
production process newspaper. The integration process will be
facilitated by advances in three areas: data compression, data base
management and distributed processing."
He added, "Computerization may enhance the political power of newspapers
by providing them with data banks and the ability to compile and
disseminate pertinent information on issues or people at a very rapid
At one point, Mr. Netanyahu told MIT professors he hoped to use his
combined studies in management and architecture towards alleviating
Israel's acute housing shortage. Mr. Netanyahu also wrote a paper for a
graduate level course at Harvard in 1973 on a prophetic subject-the
prospects for an Arab-Israeli pluralistic security community.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 1996.