You read the headline right. Sometimes someone digs so deep down into bullshit that there comes a moment when they are entirely surrounded by it – up, down, right, left. Those are good moments to say: how did I get here? And how do I get out? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had one of those moments today. But those questions did not occur to him.
In case you’re wondering: the headline is not a tease. In a speech Tuesday, in an effort to make his case about Palestinian provocations and violence against Jews, the Israel Prime Minister actually found his way into defending Adolf Hitler.
Here’s how it went down.
In a speech before the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister described an purported conversation between Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, a pivotal and controversial figure in British Mandate Palestine. The gist of it was that until that point, Hitler just wanted to deport the Jews. It was al-Husseini who convinced him he had to go the rather more extreme, genocidal route.
Here’s the passage in question, from a transcript released by the Prime Minister’s Office (emphasis added)…
This attack and other attacks on the Jewish community in 1920, 1921, 1929, were instigated by a call of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was later sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials because he had a central role in fomenting the final solution. He flew to Berlin. 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.” And he was sought in, during the Nuremberg trials for prosecution. He escaped it and later died of cancer, after the war, died of cancer in Cairo. But this is what Haj Amin al-Husseini said. He said, “:The Jews seek to destroy the Temple Mount.”
Now I want to briefly go over the history to make some sense of this comment. Al-Husseini was a member of the powerful al-Husseini family of Jerusalemite notables who the British made Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. Ironically, he was appointed by British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel, the first Jew to serve as a cabinet minister in a British government. Even in the context of the conflict between Jews and Arabs during the Mandate period, in which both sides saw the other’s leaders in the harshest terms, al-Husseini stands out as a particularly violent and irredeemable figure. And he did meet with Hitler and spent World War II in Germany as an active supporter and propagandist for the Nazis. Not a good guy, to put it mildly.
Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
Sympathy for the Nazis was not at all uncommon among Arab nationalists during the 1930s and 1940s. One example that may surprise you is the now much-lauded Anwar Sadat. Arab nationalism was mainly focused on the British who either directly or indirectly controlled Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and other parts of the Arab world at the time. There was a natural alliance of convenience between those fighting the British and Britain’s mortal enemy, Nazi Germany. For some Arab nationalists, this alliance of convenience mixed with a revulsion for the parliamentarism with which the British were associated and grew into an outright embrace of fascism and Nazism. As you might expect, the degree to which is a matter of endless controversy. But that’s beyond the scope of the issue at hand.
But even in this context, al-Husseini was an extreme case, a thoroughgoing anti-Semite who completely embraced Hitler and Nazism and spent the war years in Germany working in various ways on behalf of the Nazis. There’s really nothing good to be said about the guy. (Not that it’s terribly relevant, but I’m not sure what the reference to al Husseini’s dying after the war in Cairo is about. As far as I know he died in Beirut in the 70s.)
All that said, al-Husseini didn’t convince Hitler to exterminate European Jewry. Hitler didn’t need to convinced. (It’s hard to believe this requires saying.) As bad as he was, al-Husseini was a insignificant small fry in the tragic drama of the final years of the Third Reich.
Jews of all people can usually be expected to accept that Hitler didn’t need any convincing or nudging or encouragement to order the Final Solution. There have been some fringe scholars who’ve tried to portray al-Husseini as somehow one of the architects of the Final Solution. But these claims have never been accepted by mainstream or legitimate Holocaust scholars. It’s just not true. The origins of the alleged exchange Netanyahu quotes is even more obscure. It doesn’t even have a documented history as propaganda or conspiracy theory. Regardless, no legitimate scholars believe any of this.
But this is about more than mere historical error. And it’s worth considering what this was all about. Despite cases like that of al-Husseini, the Palestinians were essentially uninvolved bystanders to the Holocaust, though one can argue that they were also its indirect victims. Nonetheless, here Netanyahu is trying to reframe them as actual instigators of the Holocaust. The Palestinians thus become a sort of moral one-stop-shopping for the entire drama of 20th century Jewry.
Now, propagandists are capable of almost anything. But here, it is simply amazing that the need to do this brings Netanyahu so far as to actually advance a limited exoneration of Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler. And make no mistake: that is what it is. Hitler only wanted to deport Jews, says Netanyahu – an outrage and a crime, but hardly unprecedented in history. He had to be convinced to order extermination rather than expulsion.
When you, as a Jew, get to the point of making excuses for Adolf Hitler, partly exculpating him to make some political point, you really need to step back and ask how you got there.
There’s really nothing more to say.