Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been accused of playing into the hands of Holocaust deniers after claiming that Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, not Adolf Hitler, inspired the Final Solution that saw some 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
Speaking at the 37th World Zionist Congress on Tuesday night, Netanyahu, who is the son of a historian, alleged that prior to a 1941 meeting with the then Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the German Führer "didn't want to exterminate the Jews."
The prime minister then proceeded to relate a conversation, of which there is no historical record, where Husseini persuades Hitler that instead of just expelling the Jews he should "burn them."
Husseini collaborated with Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II and helped recruit Bosnian Muslims to the SS after requesting that Hitler back the Arab nationalist movement. But while it is undisputed that the Mufti allied with Hitler, historians say that the extermination of the Jews was already underway in Nazi-occupied territory months before the two men met face-to-face.
Among the cited examples of this is the murder of some 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar, a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, which is today the capital of Ukraine. Pogroms against Jews were also carried out in several areas of occupied Eastern Europe — including in Lithuania, Romania, and Western Ukraine — prior to the meeting between Hitler and the Mufti.
Commenting on Netanyahu's remarks, Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union opposition, said that the prime minister was putting himself at the service of Holocaust deniers and called the claims a "dangerous historical distortion."
'The victims of the Nazi monster, among them millions of Jews, have become cheap propaganda in the service of peace rejectionism'
"A historian's son must be accurate about history," Herzog wrote on Facebook. "There was only one Hitler. He's the one who wrote the sickening book Mein Kampf."
Fellow Zionist Union MP Itzik Shmuli demanded Netanyahu apologize to Holocaust victims and their families for the comments. "This is a great shame, a prime minister of the Jewish state at the service of Holocaust-deniers," he said. "This isn't the first time Netanyahu distorts historical facts, but a lie of this magnitude is the first."
Netanyahu's comments come at a time of escalating violence a between Israel and Palestinians, much of which has centered on Jerusalem and Palestinian fears that Israel is seeking to change the status quo at a controversial holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as Temple Mount.
Over the last month, 10 Israelis have been killed in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks by Palestinians and 46 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, including 25 alleged attackers and 21 shot during clashes. Both sides have accused one another of whipping up tensions.
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On Friday, during a press conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting violence by "joining ISIS [the Islamic State group] and Hamas in claiming Israel is threatening al-Aqsa Mosque… which is a total lie."
Responding to Netanyahu's comments about Husseini, Ayman Odeh, who is leader of the Arab Joint List, called prime minister "dangerous" and said that Netanyahu was rewriting history in order to incite against Palestinians and "justify his disastrous policies."
"The victims of the Nazi monster, among them millions of Jews, have become cheap propaganda in the service of peace rejectionism," he added.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, called the remarks "morally indefensible" and "inflammatory."
"It's a sad day when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbor so much so that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. Mr. Netanyahu should stop using this human tragedy to score points for his political end," Erekat added.
On Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu defended his comments as he boarded a plane for an official visit to Germany saying he "didn't mean to absolve Hitler of responsibility, but to show that the father of the Palestinian nation wanted to destroy the Jews even without territories, without occupation, and without settlements."
Citing the testimony of Dieter Wisliceny, an SS executioner who implicated the Mufti in the systematic extermination of the Jews, the Israeli Prime Minister said it was "absurd" to ignore the Mufti's role in the Final Solution and accused "certain scholars" of being apologists. "There is abundant proof of this," he added.
Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem