JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech to the World Zionist Congress on Tuesday. His subject was “the 10 big lies.”
Referring to the current cycle of violence, Netanyahu said Jews in Israel had faced attacks in the past — in 1920, 1921, 1929 — instigated by the “Mufti of Jerusalem,” Haj Amin al-Husseini, who allied himself with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during World War II.
Then Netanyahu delivered this jaw-dropping assertion:
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. 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.’
Netanyahu said the Mufti of Jerusalem had “a central role in fomenting the Final Solution.”
Reaction in Israel — and around the Jewish world — came hard and fast. First politicians were agog. Then historians of the Holocaust piled on. Then Netanyahu was mocked in social media memes and parodies.
Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in the Israeli parliament, wrote: “This is a dangerous historical distortion and I demand Netanyahu correct it immediately as it minimizes the Holocaust, Nazism and … Hitler's part in our people's terrible disaster."
Herzog pointed out that the Holocaust had already begun by the time the Grand Mufti met Hitler in November 1941. Zionist Union parliamentarian Itzik Shmuli demanded Netanyahu apologize to Holocaust victims, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
"This is a great shame, a prime minister of the Jewish State at the service of Holocaust-deniers — this is a first," Shmuli said. "This isn't the first time Netanyahu distorts historical facts, but a lie of this magnitude is the first."
"This wasn't a speech by Jorg Haider," the late leader of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria, wrote Zehava Galon of the left-wing Meretz party on her Facebook page. "This wasn't a snippet of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral thesis,” which questions that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. “This was an actual quote by the prime minister of the State of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, before the World Zionist Congress. It has to be seen to be believed."
"Perhaps we should exhume the corpses of the 33,771 Jews murdered in Babi Yar in September 1941, two months before the Mufti and Hitler met, and bring them up to speed on the fact that the Nazis had no intention of destroying them," Galon wrote.
Babi Yar was the ravine outside the Ukrainian capital of Kiev where the mass killing of Jews by German troops and local collaborators took place.
The Palestinian leader and former peace negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “Netanyahu hates Palestinians so much that he is willing to absolve Hitler of the murder of 6 million Jews.”
The Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini, was a religious and political leader of the Arab population in Palestine during the British Mandatory period between the two world wars. He fomented deadly riots against the Zionists coming to Palestine; opposed mass migration of Jews; and allied with Hitler and the Nazis during World War II, in part because of his opposition to British colonial rule. The pan-Arabist Mufti spent the war in Berlin, broadcasting Arabic language propaganda and incitement against Jews and the allies.
The chief historian of the Yad Vashem, the World Center for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration in Jerusalem, Dina Porat, told the Israeli news Web site Ynet that Netanyahu's statements were factually incorrect.
"You cannot say that it was the mufti who gave Hitler the idea to kill or burn Jews," she said. "It's not true. Their meeting occurred after a series of events that point to this."
Meir Litvak, who teaches at Tel Aviv University's Department of Middle Eastern History, told the Web site: "Husseini supported the extermination of the Jews, he tried to prevent rescuing of Jews, he recruited Arabs for the SS. He was an abominable person, but this must not minimize the scale of Hitler's guilt."
In Israel the tweets went back and forth.
“No one denies the Mufti’s Arabic language radio broadcasts, his recruitment of the Islamic SS unit, and his active involvement in SS round ups of Jews in Yugosolvia. And there is no doubt that Mufti was aware of the Final Solution, fully supported it, and sought to extend it to the Arab world. In 1961, when Eichmann was brought to justice in Jerusalem, Israel’s then foreign minister, Golda Meir, called for the Mossad to apprehend the Mufti and to sit him alongside Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem.”
As he boarded a plane to Germany on Wednesday, Netanyahu responded to the storm about his comments on Hitler and the Mufti: “I did not intend to absolve Hitler of responsibility for his diabolical destruction of European Jewry. Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution extermination of 6 million Jews. He made the decision.”
He continued, however, to press his point: “The Mufti was instrumental in the decision to exterminate the Jews. We must not ignore the importance of his role. The Mufti repeatedly suggested that the Jews should be exterminated. He considered it an appropriate solution to the Palestinian question.”
Even the Germans pointed out to Netanyahu that fault for the Holocaust was theirs.
"All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said when asked about Netanyahu's remarks, the Reuters news agency reported.
The Mufti died of cancer in Beirut in 1974.