Biography – Family History


Refael (Rafi) Benvenisti (born in 1937). Was the Co-Chairman of Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) for many years and now is a member of its Board of Directors,[1][2] dedicated to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of “two-states for two peoples” solution.

He was active in the economic development field in the international and local arenas. Was a Senior Adviser in the International Finance Corporation IFC in 1972 to 1975 and 1984 to 1989 and in this capacity was on the team that established The Investment Climate Advisory Services of the World Bank Group (FIAS).[3] Later on in 1990 to 2004 he was a senior consultant to FIAS. In these capacities he worked in 40 countries advising governments how to develop their private sectors and promote Foreign Direct Investment FDI. In the land locked African country of Lesotho he assisted in the establishment of a large export oriented apparel manufacturing sector based on FDI. The development of this sector in Lesotho is considered a miracle by a World Bank – IFC report.[4] In 1976 to 1984 he was the Executive Director of the then Israel Investment Authority in charge of promoting foreign investment to Israel. In this capacity he assisted with others in the take-off of the hi-tech industries and the establishment of the semiconductors industry in Israel (among them Intel)[5] and National Semiconductor.[6]

In 1993 to 2000 he was the Senior Adviser to Shimon Peres and Avraham Shochat on Regional Cooperation Projects (see below the publications). In this capacity he was a member of the team that negotiated the Israel Jordan Peace Treaty and was the co-chairman of the teams that negotiated Article 20 Rift Valley and Article 23 Aqaba-Eilat. He was an active participant in the MENA summits in 1994 to 1997 and was a member of its steering committees. He promoted the introduction of new regional projects such as the new configuration of the Red-Sea Dead-Sea Conduit (calling it the “Peace Conduit”), or as it is called the Two Seas Canal in 1998.[7] and the Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev as a World Heritage-designated itinerary in the Negev in 2001. In 2007 he became a senior adviser to the Dead Sea Master Plan (Tama 13).

Benvenisti has a B.A. and M.A. degrees in Economics and Geography from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received a PhD degree in History, Economics and Geography from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in July 2012. His dissertation is “Economic Institutions of the Old Assyrian Trade in the 20th to 18th Centuries B.C.”.

He is the son of Israel Prize recipient David Benvenisti and the brother of Meron Benvenisti the political analyst.


Co-editor of

  • “Development Options for Regional Cooperation” (1994).
  • “Development Options for Cooperation: The Middle East/East Mediterranean Region” (1995).
  • “Programs for Regional cooperation” (1997).
  • “Partnerships in Development” (1998).
  • “Regional Cooperation: Agriculture and Water Development Options” (1996).
  • “Regional Environmental Cooperation and Development Options” (1996).

Mr. Benvenisti also participated in numerous reports on Private Sector Development, Foreign Direct Investment issues in developing countries and on Israeli issues such as:

  • “Opportunities for Industrial Development in Botswana: An Economy in Transition” 1993.
  • “Kyrgyz Republic: Private Sector Review in the Transitional Era” 1999.
  • “Kazakhstan: Joint Private Sector Assessment” 2000.
  • “Site Visits by Potential Outside Investors” – Tomsk 2002.
  • “Marketing a Country”.
  • UNCTAD Investment Promotion Study 2001.
  • Akiva Eldar ‘Haaretz’: The Gaza – West Bank Safe Passage Committee (Chairman – Benvenisti).
  • Jerusalem Post: The Red Sea-Dead Sea “Peace Conduit”.


  1. “IPCRI Board”.
  2. “Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI)”.
  3. “The Investment Climate Advisory Services of the World Bank Group (FIAS)”.
  4. “World Bank – IFC – Africa Can Compete! The Miracle of Tiny Lesotho—Sub-Saharan Africa’s Largest Garment Exporter”.
  5. “Wikipedia – Intel Israel (Hebrew)”.
  6. “Tower Semiconductors (Hebrew)”.
  7. “Jordan Times: Benvenisti’s Presentation of the Red Sea Dead Sea Conduit in Jordan 2000”.

The Benvenisti – Benveniste Family

Benveniste, also Benvenist (in Catalonia), Benvenisti, Benvenista, Benvenisto, Ben-Veniste, Beniste (in North Africa) (Spanish bien venida = welcome) is the surname of an old, noble, rich, and scholarly Jewish family of Narbonne, France from the 11th century. The family was present in the 11th to the 15th centuries in Provence, France, Barcelona, Aragon and Castile’ Spain. Family members received honorary titles from the authorities and were members of the administration of the kingdom of Aragon and Castile. They were the Baillie (“Bayle”) – the Tax Officer and Treasurer, Alfaquim – Senior Advisor to the King and Royal Physician in Barcelona and Aragon in the 12th and 13th centuries. They held the title of “Nasi” (prince in Hebrew), a name given to members of the House of David, in the Jewish communities (mainly Barcelona) and were prominent religious and secular leaders in the 11th to the 14th centuries. In the 14th to the 15th century they held the titles of “De la Cavalleria” – “of the knights” (a name given by the Templers to their treasurers and tax collectors) and Don – a noble person in Aragon and Castile. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 they were dispersed to mainly Portugal, Greece – Salonica and the other parts of the Turkish Empire. In Portugal they were forced to convert to Christianity in 1497 and became one of the rich traders and bankers (the Mendes family) of Europe. Today the name is borne by families in Europe, the Americas and Asia. It was also used as a prænomen.[1]

The Origin of the name according to a family legend told to David Benvenisti, a prominent Israeli scholar, by his grandfather Benvenisti Shemuel Yosef, a prominent Jewish leader in Salonica, in the beginning of the 20th century is: “When our forbearers dwelt in Spain, one of the kings had a Jewish finance minister who also served as royal physician. He was also known as an expert in flora, particularly medicinal plants. Once, the king, accompanied by his Jewish minister, went for a stroll in the fields near the palace. The minister told the king about every plant. The king was especially fascinated by the malva and its pink and violet blossoms. When the king asked what the flower was called and what it was used for, the Jewish minister replied that its petals were cooked and eaten, and it was called “bienva.” At this time one of the ministers, a sworn enemy of the Jewish minister, burst into laughter, and said to the king: “Your Majesty, that Jew-minister expert in our country’s flora was making fun of you. He deliberately gave you a wrong name for that flower in order to embarrass you before your ministers and viziers. That is not a ‘bienva,’ but a ‘malva’.” The king angrily asked the Jewish minister to explain, threatening him with dire punishment. The minister said: “Your Majesty, I am ready to accept your judgment. But first, I beg you, hear me out carefully. Your Majesty, when we were out in the field, you asked me to tell you the name of that plant. There you were, standing before me, Royal Highness, and I thought: By no means am I going to offend Your Majesty by telling you the plant’s true name, ‘malva’ – ‘ill-going’! So I told you that the plant is called ‘bienva’ ‘well-going’:”. The king was mollified, and he said to the Jewish minister: “You have vanquished those of my ministers who wish you ill. I am pleased with your explanation. And to commemorate this occasion, I hereby; dub you ‘Benveniste’ or ‘welcome.’”[2]


Isaac ben Josef iben Benveniste Nasi, was called Iben Barun, (c. 11th century). Hebrew grammarian, lexicographer and a poet. He lived in Saragossa (during the Islamic era) and Málaga and associated with the poets Moses ibn Ezra and Judah Halevi.[3]

Sheshet Benveniste Nasi, (c.1131-1209) ben Isaac ben Joseph. He was a physician, writer and a political advisor and diplomate to the kings of Aragon. The son of Isaac Benveniste Nasi (prince) the  physician of the king of Aragon that came to Spain from Narbonne France in the 12th century. The Narbonne Jewish center was established, according to Jewish and Christian sources, by prominent Jews from Bagdad at the request of the Carolingian kings in the end of the first millennium AD. The Babylonian names of Makhir, Hasdai, Sheshet and Shealtiel are the names of chief rabies and leaders – Nasi (considered by the Jewish tradition as descendents of king David) of the Jewish center. They appear together with the name Benveniste in documents of Narbonne and Barcelona from the 11th-13th century AD with the name Nasi added.[4][5] Sheshet received his education at Narbonne, his probable birthplace, afterward he lived at Barcelona, and later at Saragossa, in which city he died. He practiced medicine, and was the author of a medical work, manuscript copies of which are still extant at Oxford and Munich. Such was his reputation as a physician that patients came long distances to consult him.

Isaac ben Joseph Benveniste Nasi (died 1224), physician of the king of Aragon. He was the leading figure in the representative congresses of the Jewish communities convened at Montpellier and Saint-Gilles in 1214 and 1215 to consider protective measures in view of the approaching Lateran Council . Subsequently he secured for the Aragonese communities a temporary suspension of the obligation to wear the Jewish badge.[6]

Vidal Benveniste de Porta (died 1268), Jewish Bailie (“bayle”) – the tax officer and treasurer of Barcelona,  Girona and Lerida, Spain. His brother was Bonastruc ça (de) Porta, Nahmanides, (in Hebrew Ramban), also known as Rabbi Moses ben Nahman Girondi (1194–1270). He grew up, studied and lived in Girona. He was      a leading medieval Jewish scholar, Catalonia rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator. He participated in 1263 in the Disputation of Barcelona before King James I of Aragon.

Don Vidal Benveniste (de la Cavalleria) was a prominent Spanish Jewish scholar who lived in Saragossa in the beginning of the second half of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century. The honor ‘de la Cavalleria’, according to the      Encyclopaedia Judaica, was given to the family by the knights Templar who protected the family and the family in turn administered the tax system of the Templars. His family was connected to the development of the town of Saragossa in the 14th century, and members of the family Benvenist de la Cavalleria were financiers of the local kings.[7] He was elected, by the notables of the Jewish communities of Aragon, as the speaker before the pope at the beginning of disputation of Tortosa (1413).[8]

Don Abraham Benveniste (Bienveniste) (died in c. 1450) of Soria and Toledo,      Spain. Statesman and chief rabbi (or “court rabbi”) of Castile during the reign of Juan II, (1406–54). He was also entrusted with the public finances of the kingdom      together with Don Yosef Nasi. Under the presidency of Benveniste a Jewish synod in Valladolid in 1432 drew up a statute called the “Takḳanoth,” which was to serve as a basis for the administration of the Jewish communities in Spain. It dealt with the divine service, with the glorification of the study of the Law,  with state taxation, and with the welfare and progress of the communities.[4][9]

Don Judah Benveniste and Don Samuel Benveniste Sons of Don Meir Benveniste of Toledo. Grandsons of Don Abraham Benveniste the court rabbi of Castile. They immigrated to Salonica in 1492 with other Jewish Spanish exiles, and with them they founded the Sephardic community in that city. They succeeded in preserving a share of  their great patrimony sufficient for the purchase of a large collection of books. Several experienced scribes were always employed in copying the Mishnah, the Talmud, and other works at their homes, which was the center      of the scholarly Spanish exiles.[4]

Don Vidal Benvenist (de la Cavalleria) Grandson of Don Abraham Benveniste was a prominent and a wealthy man in Spain in the second half of the 15th century. Together with his brother Abraham [10] they negotiated a compact with the King of Portugal to allow 120,000 of the Jewish exiles from Spain in 1492 to stay in Portugal  for six months. The Jewish exiles had to pay one ducat for every soul, and      the fourth part of all the merchandise they had carried with them when they entered Portugal.[11]

Francisco Mendes (Tzemah Benveniste in Hebrew) one of the wealthiest traders and bankers in Europe in the first half of the 16th century. He was the great grandson of Don Abraham Benveniste. His family was forcibly converted Jews known as Conversos (also called Crypto-Jews, Marranos and Secret Jews). While still Jewish, they had fled to Portugal when the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, expelled the Jews in 1492. Five years later, in 1497, they were forcibly converted to Catholicism along with all the other Jews in Portugal at that time. Francisco Mendes|Benveniste directed, along with his brother Diogo Mendes (Meir Benveniste), from Lisbon and later from Antwerpen,[12] a powerful trading company and a bank of world repute with agents across Europe and around the Mediterranean. The House of Mendes|Benveniste probably began as a company trading precious objects. Following the beginning of the Age of Discovery and the finding, by the Portuguese, of a sea route to India, they became particularly important spice traders (the kings of black pepper). They also traded in silver – the silver was needed to pay the Asians for those spices.[13] They financed the kings and queens of Portugal, Spain, England, the Flanders and the popes in Rome.[14]

Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi (1510–1569) a Marrano-Jewish-Portuguese      businesswoman (Micas|Nasi). Was married to Francisco Mendes (Tzemah      Benvenisti), inherited the Mendes|Benvenisti fortune and became one of the      wealthiest women in Europe of the middle 16th century. She returned to Judaism in Ferarra in the 1550s together with members of the Henriques|Mendes|Benveniste family (Meir, Abraham and Reina Benveniste).[15]

Imanoel Benveniste (1608–1664) a notable printer from Amsterdam that printed many books in Hebrew among them the Bible and the Talmud. He was from Venice. Indirect information point to his origin as a marano that converted back to Judaism and possibly as a member of the Mendes|Benveniste family from Venice (see Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi).[16]

Don Vidal Benveniste From Aragon settled in Constantinople after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. A  writer of a book published in 1512.[17]

Moses Benveniste (second half  of the 16th century). The physician of the Grand Vasir Siavouch Pasha in  Constantinople. Political advisor and diplomate. Negotiated peace with Spain. Died in exile in Rodes.

Joshua ben Israel Benveniste (c. 1590 – c. 1668), Physician and rabbi in Constantinople

Chaim Benveniste (1603–1673), Brother of Joshua, rabbinical authority at Constantinople and later at Smyrna.

Asa Benveniste (1925–1990), American poet

Émile Benveniste (1902–1976), French structural linguist

Jacques Benveniste (1935–2004), French immunologist

Richard Ben-Veniste (born 1943), American lawyer


Meron Benvenisti (born 1934), Israeli historian and journalist, the son of the geographer – Israel Prize recipient David Benvenisti from Salonica.

Refael (Rafi) Benvenisti (born 1937), Israeli economist, brother of Meron.

Eyal Benvenisti (born 1959), Israeli and Int’l law professor, son of Meron.

  1. References
  2. Moritz Steinschneider, “Cat. Bodl.” No. 7348; Loeb, in “Rev. des Etudes Juives”, xxi. 153.
  3. “The Origin of the name Benveniste”.
  4. “Encyclopaedia Judaica”.
  5. “Narbonne – Jewish Encyclopedia”.
  6. Trigano – The Conventionalism of social Bonds and the Strategies of Jewish Society in the Thirteenth Century; Byrd – The Jesus Gene: A messianic Bloodline, the Jews and Freemasonry; Klein – Jews, Christian society, and royal power in medieval Barcelona.
  7. “Baer – A History of the Jews in Christian Spain Vol II.
  8. “Baer – A History of the Jews in Christian Spain Vol II.
  9. “Baer – A History of the Jews in Christian Spain Vol. II, pp. 259-270.
  10. “Baer – A History of the Jews in Christian Spain Vol II, p. 317.
  11. “Jewish History Sourcebook: The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE.
  12. “Antwerpen – Jewish Encyclopedia”.
  13. The Long Journey of Dona Gracia.
  14. “Mendes – Jewish Encyclopedia”.
  15. The Hebrew Portuguese Nations In Antwerp And London.
  16. Fuks & Fuks-Mansfeld – Hebrew typography in the Northern Netherlands, 1585-1815.
  17. Rosanes S.A., Histoire des israelites de turquie, Sofia 1934.
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