- Israeli premier says mufti convinced Hitler to kill Jews
- Herzog says premier played into Holocaust-deniers' hands
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that a Nazi-era Palestinian leader convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews has spurred outrage from Palestinian officials and rebukes from Israeli historians.
At a conference of global Jewish activists on Tuesday, Netanyahu mentioned the 1941 meeting in Berlin between Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and a Nazi sympathizer. The allusion was intended to create a historical context for a recent surge in Arab attacks on Israelis that the prime minister has blamed on Arab incitement.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them’.”
Several Israeli historians accused the prime minister of trying to make political capital from the Palestinian violence by exaggerating the mufti’s role in the Holocaust. “It’s ludicrous, this claim,” Yehuda Bauer, a professor emeritus of Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Army Radio. “Netanyahu’s comments trivialize Hitler; he didn’t need an Arab from the Middle East to tell him what to do.”
Isaac Herzog, leader of Israel’s opposition Zionist Union party, said on his Facebook page that Netanyahu’s words “fall like ripe fruit into the hands of Holocaust-deniers and inject them into the conflict with the Palestinians.”
Even the Palestinians found themselves in the ironic role of accusing Netanyahu of diminishing Hitler’s evil. “It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbor so much he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler,” said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and longtime negotiator in peace talks with Israel.
The prime minister defended himself against the uproar on Wednesday before leaving for an official visit to to Germany. “It is absurd. I had no intention to absolve Hitler of his responsibility for his diabolical destruction of European Jewry,” he said. “It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal, for encouraging and urging Hitler, Ribbentrop, Himmler and others, to exterminate European Jewry.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her views on Adolf Hitler’s responsibility for the Holocaust won’t change after Netanyahu’s comments regarding the mufti.
“For the government and for myself, I can say that we recognize the responsibility of National Socialism for the breach with civilization that was the Shoah,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin alongside Netanyahu on Wednesday. “We are convinced that this must be handed down to future generations, for example in the area of school education. So we see no reason to change our historical perspective on this question.”
Netanyahu didn’t repeat at the briefing his earlier claim that Hitler hadn’t originally wanted to kill the Jews. Instead, he cited testimony that the mufti was one of the originators of the systematic destruction of European Jewry and an adviser to Hitler. He questioned why the Palestinian Authority glorifies the mufti in textbooks as a Palestinian icon, even though he was a Nazi collaborator.
Netanyahu said that claims that the mufti made in the 1920’s that the Jews were seeking to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, which triggered a wave of violence then, is now being reflected in the current Palestinian incitement to violence.
“The mosque stands, but the lie persists,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu has come under criticism at home and abroad before for invoking the Holocaust in connection with Israel’s present-day enemies, including Iran.
The recent violence that triggered Netanyahu’s controversial statement has killed at least eight Israelis and about 50 Arabs so far this month. Many of the Arabs were killed after attacking Jews with knives, guns and cars, and others died in clashes with Israeli troops.
In the latest incident on Wednesday, a Palestinian was shot to death after he and a second assailant stabbed a female Israeli soldier in the West Bank. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, visiting Israel and the West Bank in a bid to restore calm, warned both sides they “stand on the brink of another catastrophic period of violence.”