Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under fire after suggesting that a World War II-era Palestinian leader convinced the Nazis to adopt their Final Solution to exterminate European Jews.
Netanyahu told a group of Jewish leaders on Tuesday that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Nazi sympathizer Haj Amin al-Husseini, convinced Hitler to destroy the Jews.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said. When Hitler asked al-Husseini what to do, Netanyahu said he replied: “Burn them.”
Opposition leaders have slammed Netanyahu’s comments as a gross distortion of history and an incitement to hatred against Palestinians, coming in the midst of a wave of violent unrest and Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
“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,” Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog wrote on his Facebook page.
“This is a great shame, a prime minister of the Jewish state at the service of Holocaust-deniers – this is a first,” said Itzik Shmuli, an MP for Herzog’s opposition party. “This isn’t the first time Netanyahu distorts historical facts, but a lie of this magnitude is the first.”
Arab Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said Netanyahu “is rewriting history in order to incite against the Palestinian people”. He added: “The victims of the Nazi monster, among them millions of Jews, have become cheap propaganda in the service of peace rejectionism.”
Israeli daily Haaretz reports that Netanyahu made a similar claim in 2012, when he told Israeli lawmakers that the former Grand Mufti was “one of the leading architects” of the Holocaust, in which more than five million Jews were murdered.
Fringe historians have made the suggestion in the past, but it has been rejected by established scholars.
“To say that the Mufti was the first to mention to Hitler the idea to kill or burn the Jews is not correct,” Dina Porat, a professor at Tel Aviv University and the chief historian of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, told Israel Radio on Wednesday.
“The idea to rid the world of the Jews was a central theme in Hitler’s ideology a long, long time before he met the mufti,” she said.
Porat and others pointed out that the murder of the Jews began in June 1941. Even if the Mufti wanted the Final Solution to be expanded, he was not the one who came up with the idea.
“For somebody who knows something about history and grew up in the house of historian Professor Benzion Netanyahu, he should know well,” Porat said of the prime minister. “But in my humble opinion, to say that the mufti gave Hitler the idea is wrong.”
FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS