Netanyahu vs. the Mufti: Why the Controversy?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stirred up a hornet’s nest when he told the World Zionist Congress yesterday that Hitler’s “final solution” was originally the Grand Mufti’s idea:

Netanyahu’s comments have been just about universally denounced.

Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Professor Dina Porat, told 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.”

I don’t know whether the encounter between the Mufti and Hitler occurred exactly as Netanyahu rendered it, nor do I know when Hitler, subjectively, decided that he wanted to kill Europe’s Jews rather than expel them. The Mufti met with Hitler in November 1941, and the Wannsee Conference, where the “final solution” was officially decided on, was two months later. But by November 1941 the killing had already begun on the Eastern front and, in any event, Hitler certainly didn’t need the Mufti, or anyone else, to give him the idea of killing Jews.

That said, why the fuss? There is no doubt about the fact that the Mufti was an enthusiastic advocate of exterminating the Jews, who pressed this view on the Nazi leadership repeatedly. Many are claiming that Netanyahu’s comments let Hitler and the Nazis off the hook for the Holocaust, and Germany’s government went so far as to release a statement to the effect that “responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.” But this strikes me as a ludicrous interpretation of what Netanyahu said. Obviously the Nazi regime carried out the Holocaust and is responsible for it–although it may also be said that the Nazis had plenty of help.

Responding to the storm of criticism, Netanyahu said:

I had absolutely no intention of absolving Hitler of his diabolical responsibility for the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to murder six million, it was his decision.

At the same time it is absurd to ignore the role played by the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal, in encouraging and goading Hitler, Ribbentrop, Himmler and others to exterminate European Jewry.

There are many testimonies to this, including the testimony of Eichmann’s deputy at Nuremberg – not now, but after the Second World War. He said:

The Mufti played a role in the decision of the German government to exterminate the European Jews, the importance of which must not be disregarded. He has repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he has been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution for the Palestine problem.

Eichmann’s deputy added: “The Mufti was one of the initiators of the diabolical extermination of European Jewry and was a partner and advisor to Eichman and Hitler in the carrying-out of this plan.”

This attempt by certain researchers and certain people to give an apologetic to the central and important role Hajj Amin al-Husseini had is obvious. Many other scholars quote this testimony and other testimonies as to Hajj Amin al-Husseini’s role.

My goal was not to absolve Hitler from the responsibility that he bears, but rather to show that the father of the Palestinian nation at that time, without a state and without what they call “the occupation”, without Palestinian territories and without settlements, already aspired to destroy the Jews through systematic incitement. Unfortunately, Hajj Amin al-Husseini is still a revered figure in Palestinian society. He appears in textbooks and is elevated as the father of the nation, and the incitement that began with him, incitement to kill Jews, continues. It’s not the same format, but in another format, and it’s the root of the problem. In order to stop the murder, we must stop the incitement.

While Netanyahu overstated the case, the universal condemnation of his remarks not only reflects hostility toward the Prime Minister, but also, I suspect, a desire to distract attention from an important piece of history of which most people are unaware.