CNN, Trump, the Kurds, Normandy – and Israel?

After President Trump announced his controversial decision to pull some US troops from Northern Syria near the Turkish border, opening the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurds who had been allied with the US, the president attempted to explain his policy by noting that the Kurds are:

… fighting for their land, and as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example, they mentioned names of different battles …

The president was apparently referring to a column by writer and US Army veteran Kurt Schlichter, which in its relevant section said:

Let’s be honest – the Kurds didn’t show up for us at Normandy or Inchon or Khe Sanh or Kandahar.

So the president wasn’t just referring to Normandy, he was following Schlichter in citing a number of notable US battles in World War II, the Korean and Viet Nam wars, and the post-911 battles against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Which brings us to CNN – covering the controversy, anchor Brooke Baldwin approvingly quoted a CNN contributor’s tweet:

BALDWIN: Before we talk about what President Trump said last night, there was a tweet that caught my eye this morning from one of our standing contributors, Wajahat Ali. And I just wanted to read it for you. He said, here are the countries that did not fight with the U.S. at Normandy whose leaders Trump nonetheless helps or praises, Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea, Israel, Turkey, Philippines, Egypt, Hungary. But he decides to single out the Kurds. Colonel, he [the tweeter] has a point ...

There are two notable things about the tweet that Baldwin approvingly cites:

  1. The president didn’t just refer to Normandy, so harping on who fought at Normandy is a distraction from the larger point the president was making, whether one feels it is a valid point or not.
  2. Why bring in Israel?

Some who have criticized President Trump’s rationale pointed out that in fairness to the Kurds, they don’t have a state now and didn’t have one during World War II either, so it would have been impossible for them to fight at Normandy or in the other cited battles as if there had been a country of Kurdistan.

Of course, Israel also didn’t have a state, and so organized Jewish forces didn’t fight at Normandy either. But what Baldwin and most of her viewers don’t know is that organized Jewish forces did fight in World War II, on the side of the Allies. Under the British-ruled Palestine Mandate (which ended in 1948), some 30,000 Jewish volunteers from the territory fought with British forces during the war, and in 1944 the British finally agreed to form a Jewish Brigade of some 5000 soldiers, which fought alongside British forces in Europe, and therefore also alongside United States forces.

While the British also attempted to enlist Arabs from the Palestine Mandate to serve the war effort, in the end very few did.

Perhaps this is because the founder and first leader of the Palestinian national movement, Haj Amin al-Husseini, known as the Grand Mufti, 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)

The Mufti pressured 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.

Some media reports have tried to downplay the Mufti's role, such as this one in the New York Times, which claimed:

… 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.  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)

Note in the last paragraph Eichmann’s testimony that “even before the Mufti’s arrival” in Berlin, his influence against emigration of Jews had already been felt, underscoring that, as regards the emigration of Jews, the meeting with Hitler was relatively unimportant.  
Of course, with Palestine closed to them, and with nowhere else for these 4000 Jewish children and 80,000 Romanian Jews to go, they almost certainly perished in the Holocaust. This is just one example among many where the Mufti was directly responsible for the mass murder of Jews.

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.

So while the Jews of the Palestine Mandate (later Israel) fought on the British side, the leader of the Palestinians, Haj Amin al-Husseini, did everything in his power to help the Nazis defeat the Allies, and to murder the Jews.

Perhaps Brooke Baldwin and her colleagues at CNN might want to consider tweeting about that -- and covering it.

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