Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that a Palestinian convinced Hitler to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust, provoking rebukes from historians as well as rival Israeli politicians, Palestinian leaders, the German government and a member of his own cabinet on Wednesday.
In a speech before the World Zionist Conference late Tuesday night, Netanyahu said that Haj Amin al-Husseini, the World War II–era mufti of Jerusalem, played a “central role in fomenting the final solution.”
Netanyahu then described the infamous meeting between al-Husseini and Hitler in Berlin, in November 1941.
“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.’”
Netanyahu said Hitler then asked what else he was supposed to do with the Jews, to which the mufti replied, “Burn them.”
Leading Holocaust scholars rejected the prime minister’s narrative.
The chief historian of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, Dina Porat, told NBC News that while the mufti “more than supported” Hitler’s plan, “Hitler did not need him to tell him what to do with the Jews. The Jews were already burning.”
As Reuters notes, more than two years before meeting with the mufti, Hitler declared his intention to exterminate the “Jewish race” in a speech before Nazi Germany’s parliament. And although the Final Solution had yet to be formalized in 1941, the mass murder of Jews was well under way — according to historians who spoke with the New York Times, 1 million Jews had already perished by the time the mufti visited Berlin.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned Netanyahu’s remarks, saying in a statement, “It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbor so much so that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of 6 million Jews.”
Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog called the prime minister’s words a “dangerous distortion of history” on his official Facebook page. And even Netanyahu’s own defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, questioned the statements.
“It certainly wasn’t (Husseini) who invented the Final Solution,” Ya’alon told Israel’s Army Radio. “That was the evil brainchild of Hitler himself.”
When asked about Netanyahu’s comments, a spokesperson for German chancellor Angela Merkel told Reuters that the Nazi regime bore sole responsibility for the atrocities it perpetrated.
“All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust,” Steffen Seibert said. “We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.”
In the context of the speech, the mufti’s support for the Final Solution was cited as evidence that the recent spate of Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis wasn’t produced by frustrations over the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, nor by fears of Israeli encroachment on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but solely by a deep and abiding anti-Semitism within much of the Palestinian community.
“My intention was not to absolve Hitler of his responsibility,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday. “But rather to show that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation, without a country and without the so-called occupation, without land and without settlements, even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews.”
But in an interview with the Times, professor of German history at Hebrew University Moshe Zimmermann suggested that this implicit political argument was precisely what made the prime minister’s distorted history so troubling.
“He moves the responsibility of the Holocaust, for the destruction of the Jews, to the mufti and the Arab world,” Zimmermann told the paper. “This is a trick intended to stain the Arabs of today because of the Arabs of the past. To pile on the Arabs of the past by easing up on the Germans of the past.”
Netanyahu’s father was an eminent Israeli historian and one of the intellectual forces behind Revisionist Zionism.