Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is being criticized by some Israeli historians and politicians, as well as many media outlets, for saying in a speech that the first Palestinian leader, Haj Amin el-Husseini, known as the Grand Mufti, gave Hitler the idea of exterminating the Jews. In his address to the Zionist Congress, Netanyahu said:
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.”
Predictably, the New York Times gives this controversy great play, with an editorial slamming Netanyahu – Mr. Netanyahu’s Holocaust Blunder – and a story on page A4 by Jodi Rudoren titled Netanyahu Denounced for Saying Palestinian Inspired Holocaust, with this paragraph as the lead:
Israeli historians and opposition politicians on Wednesday joined Palestinians in denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for saying it was a Palestinian, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who gave Hitler the idea of annihilating European Jews during World War II.
But the title and the lead don’t exactly describe the article, for it was not all the historians quoted who denounced or even disagreed with Netanyahu. In fact, the historian whose expertise – “Arab collaboration with the Nazis”– is most relevant, agreed with Netanyahyu. As even the Times put it:
But Edy Cohen of Bar-Ilan University, an expert on Arab collaboration with the Nazis, said he supported Mr. Netanyahu’s take on history, though he said it was impossible to precisely balance blame for the extermination idea.“What I can surely say is that both men mutually inspired each other,” Mr. Cohen said. “One can’t be in their heads and know who hated Jews more.”
Given much more prominence in the Times story was historian Moshe Zimmerman of Hebrew University:
Prof. Moshe Zimmermann, a specialist of German history at Hebrew University, said, “With this, Netanyahu joins a long line of people that we would call Holocaust deniers.”
Strangely enough, Rudoren also went to Zimmermann for a quote in a 2013 story about racist soccer fans in Israel, but described him not as a “specialist of German history” but as a “specialist in sports.”
The soccer report – Some Fear a Soccer Team’s Racist Fans Hold a Mirror Up to Israel – was, predictably a blanket condemnation of Israel based on the worst fans of a particular soccer team.
And Zimmermann, no matter his expertise, was happy to help, telling Rudoren that:
“People in Israel usually try to locate Beitar Jerusalem as some kind of the more extreme fringe; this is a way to overcome the embarrassment,” said Moshe Zimmermann, a historian at Hebrew University who specializes in sports. “The fact is that the Israeli society on the whole is getting more racist, or at least more ethnocentric, and this is an expression.”
(Please click here for CAMERA’s analysis of the soccer report.)
But there’s more to be said about Moshe Zimmermann and Rudoren’s use of him as an expert commentator, for Zimmermann is actually known for extreme, incendiary comments, such as comparing Israeli soldiers not just to Nazis, but to the even more extreme SS:
Soldiers who volunteer especially for service in the territories are seen as heroes, and one can basically (sic) compare the spirit of this volunteerism to the spirit of the German who volunteered to serve in the SS.
He also compared Jewish children living in Hebron with the “Hitler Youth”:
The children of Hebron are just like Hitler Youth.
It seems safe to say that if a reporter wants an anti-Netanyahu quote, Moshe Zimmermann won’t disappoint.
Furthermore, while Zimmermann falsely accuses Netanyahu of “holocaust denial,” he actually indicts himself on the same charge. For, following his own logic, if Israeli combat soldiers are comparable to the SS, then how bad was the SS and how bad were the Nazis?
Because of Zimmermann’s penchant for comparing his fellow Israelis to Nazis, the ADL wrote a letter to the Hebrew University, asking the administration to take a stand against the professor’s reckless and extreme charges.
Zimmerman has also signed his name to idiotic and extreme petitions, such as one in 2002 titled “Urgent warning: The Israeli government may be contemplating crimes against humanity,” charging that:
We, members of Israeli academe, are horrified by US buildup of aggression towards Iraq and by the Israeli political leadership’s enthusiastic support for it.We are deeply worried by indications that the “fog of war” could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.
Obviously nothing of the sort happened. But when it comes to Israel, this is the exactly the sort of “expert” who is regularly welcomed to the pages of the New York Times, presented as if he were a sober, disinterested academic, rather than an unhinged partisan.
What of Netanyahu’s statement itself? It’s certainly not an example of his usual precision when it comes to the facts of history. For example, the Mufti was not indicted at the Nuremberg trials. There was no lack of evidence against the Mufti, but Arab pressure succeeded in protecting him, thanks to concern among the western powers about post-war arrangements in the Middle East.
And it was a mistake for Netanyahu to focus on the Mufti’s meeting with Hitler, for the Mufti’s ties to the Nazis, including senior Nazi officials like Adolf Eichmann and Heinrich Himmler, were more longstanding and much deeper than any single meeting.
The leader of the Palestinian national movement was an ally of Nazi Germany almost from the inception of Nazi rule, and fled to Berlin at the outbreak of World War II, where he closely collaborated with the Nazi leadership. Among the Mufti’s notable achievements during his Nazi years was his creation of a special Muslim Waffen SS Division in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Known as the Handschar Division, it committed brutal war crimes against Serbian Christians and Jews, leading the postwar Yugoslavian government to indict the Mufti as a war criminal.
The Mufti also made numerous pro-Nazi propaganda broadcasts to the Arab world. For example, in a broadcast from Germany on March 1, 1944, he urged Arabs everywhere to commit genocide against the Jews:
Rise as one and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion. This serves your honor. God is with you. (Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, p213, Yale University Press, 2009)
While Netanyahu’s characterization of the meeting between the Mufti and Hitler was inaccurate, there is ample evidence of the Mufti’s prior pressure on the Nazis to adopt extermination as the solution to the “Jewish problem,” especially during the period when official Nazi policy was the so-called Madagascar Plan, which called for the brutal expulsion of Europe’s Jews rather than direct extermination.
It’s also true, as the Times states, that:
… the mufti “met Hitler in person for the first time” on Nov. 28, 1941 — two months before the Final Solution was formalized and the construction of extermination camps accelerated, according to historians, but after the mass murder of Jews had begun, and roughly one million had perished.
But the meeting between Mufti and Hitler, and exactly when it took place is irrelevant – as stated above, the Mufti’s deep ties to the Nazis long predated 1941. Focusing on the details of the meeting is a key error that has plagued much of the commentary about Netanyahu’s statement. The real question is what impact the Grand Mufti and those he ordered, inspired and incited had on the Holocaust. What role did the Grand Mufti and his Palestinian followers have in preventing Jews from escaping the Nazis and getting to the only territory that would take them, the Jewish community in British-run Mandate Palestine?
Here the evidence is clear: The Mufti influenced the Germans to directly prevent the escape of Jews who otherwise might have survived the war, and he provoked his followers to violence in the Palestine Mandate, leading the British to enact the infamous White Paper. That new British policy called for greatly restricting Jewish immigration for five years, after which any further immigration would have required Arab assent:
After the period of five years, no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it.
This again prevented Jews from escaping from the Nazis in Europe, and thereby helped implement their extermination.
That is, at the very moment when the desperate Jews of Europe most needed a haven to escape to, the Mufti had played a key role in slamming the door.
And here, in detail, are the facts about the Mufti’s successful prevention of the evacuation of 4000 Jewish children from the Balkan countries, and separately 80,000 Jews from Romania, to the Jewish community in the Palestine Mandate:
The Mufti was both persistent and indefatigable in his efforts to prevent the Jews from leaving, in whatever form. Legationsrat Wilhelm Melchers said in his evidence taken during the Nuremberg trial, August 6, 1947: “The Mufti was making protests everywhere-in the Office of the [Foreign] Minister, in the antechamber of the Secretary of State, and in other Departments, such as Home Office, Press, Radio, and in the S.S. headquarters. It goes without saying that the [Reich] Foreign Ministry was expecting protest demarches in matters concerning Balkan Jews, just on the part of the Mufti. They were, of course, welcome in certain places….The Mufti was an accomplished foe of the Jews and did not conceal that he would love to see all of them liquidated.” His main concern, however, was the liquidation of Palestine Jewry. “The Jewish National Home must disappear and the Jews [there] must get out he once told Melcher, and he “did not care where they would go”: Ils peuvent aller s’ils veulent au diable” (They are free to go to hell)
As a rule, the Mufti’s demarches had an immediate effect. On May 13, 1943, he personally delivered to Von Ribbentrop a letter of protest against the plan to arrange the emigration of 4,000 Jewish children:
It has come to my attention from reliable sources that the English and American Governments asked their representatives in the Balkans (especially in Bulgaria) to intervene with the governments and request that they be given permission to allow Jews to emigrate to Palestine. In connection with this, the British Minister of Colonies, Sir Oliver Stanley, announced in the British Parliament that the discussions for the emigration of 4,000 children escorted by 500 adults from Bulgaria have been ended successfully and he hopes that similar occurrences will be achieved in Rumania and Hungary. The Arabs see in this emigration a great danger to their lives and existence. The Arab peoples put themselves at the disposal of the Axis without any hesitation in the fight against communism and international Jewry. The Jews will take out with them from the Balkans many military secrets and will give them to Allied agents who are waiting their arrival at the port. I request your Excellency to act with all possible effort to avoid this plan of the international Jewry and Anglo-Americans without delay. This service will never be forgotten by the Arab people.
Following this request, Horst Wagner of the Abteilung II of the German Foreign Office forthwith sent a telegram to the German ambassador in Sofia instructing him to draw the attention of the Bulgarian government to the common German-Arabian interest in preventing this rescue action.
Discussing with engineer Endre Steiner at Bratislava the prospects for emigration of a group of Polish Jewish children, S.S. Hauptsturmfuhrer Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann’s deputy for Slovakia and Hungary, insisted that “the destination of [their] possible emigration may under no circumstances be Palestine.” To the question as to why such limitation had been imposed, Wisliceny laughingly asked whether Steiner “had not heard of the Gra
nd Mufti whose name was Hussein … [and who] was in closest contact and collaboration with Eichmann…. In order not to have this action disapproved by the Mufti, Palestine could not be accepted by any German authority as the final destination. Somewhat later, Eichmann himself told Dr. Rudolf Kastner in Budapest: “I am a personal friend of the Grand Mufti. We have promised him that no European Jew would enter Palestine any more. Do you understand now?”
In every case connected with the emigration of Jews from Germany’s “vital space,” there always was mention of some promises given to, or an agreement concluded with, the Mufti not to permit the exit of any numbers of Jews, large or small. A document submitted at the Eichmann trial by the prosecution established that when the German minister to Bucharest had formally objected to an order by Marshal Antonescu, the Rumanian prime minister, to allow the emigration of 80,000 Rumanian Jews, he did so “in accordance with our agreement with the Mufti.” In answer to questions put to him at the Jerusalem trial, Eichmann said on June 27, 1961, that though even before the Mufti’s arrival there had been “objections to emigration to Palestine because this might strengthen the country [Palestine] and create in the field of foreign relations a new factor which would one day join the enemies of the Reich,” a consistent “policy of the Foreign Ministry … began after the agreement with the Grand Mufti”; he also spoke of an “agreement between Mufti and [head of the Gestapo] Himmler.” (From The Mufti and the Fuehrer, Joseph B. Schechtman, p 157-159)
While the Mufti most likely did not give the idea of exterminating the Jews to Hitler, he certainly encouraged him to do so, and played a direct role in the attempted extermination, as did his many followers among the Arabs of the Palestine Mandate, and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds.
One of the excuses used by Arab partisans is that bad as the Holocaust may have been, why should the Arabs pay the price for a European crime?
But the Grand Mufti, the leader of the Palestinian national movement, was a Nazi war criminal who literally got away with murder. While Netanyahu misstated some of the relevant history, exposing the responsibility of the Grand Mufti and his legions of Palestinian followers in the mass murder of the Jews is all to the good.