Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under fire for saying Haj Amin al-Husseini, the former grand mufti of Jerusalem, convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate millions of Jews.
The Israeli leader made the remarks Tuesday evening during a speech to the 37th World Zionist Congress in which he blamed Husseini, the late Palestinian Arab nationalist, for spearheading Hitler’s final solution, sparking a firestorm from numerous critics including opposition politicians, Jewish historians and members of the prime minister’s own administration.
The prime minister’s comments came on the eve of a trip to Germany where he was slated to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry to discuss the current state of affairs in the Middle East and an escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent weeks.
According to Mr. Netanyahu, Husseini told Hitler during a November 1941 meeting that the Nazis must purge the planet of Jews rather than risk having them relocate into what was later declared the state of Palestine.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here [to Palestine],” Mr. Netanyahu claimed.
Hitler then asked what he should do, to which the Mufti replied, “Burn them,” the prime minister said.
His comments quickly prompted condemnations from individuals who took umbrage not only with Mr. Netanyahu’s whitewashing of Hitler’s role in the Holocaust, but for his misrepresentation of world history.
Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defense minister, told his country’s Army Radio that “It certainly wasn’t [Husseini] who invented the Final Solution.”
“[H]istory is actually very, very clear,” the Netanyahu ally insisted. “That was the evil brainchild of Hitler himself.”
“With this, Netanyahu joins a long line of people that we would call Holocaust deniers,” said Tel Aviv University professor Meir Litvak, who called the prime minister’s remarks “a lie” and “a disgrace,” The New York Times reported.
Israeli parliamentarian and opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the prime minister had made “a dangerous historical distortion” and demanded he “correct it immediately.”
Mr. Netanyahu previously called the mufti “one of the leading architects of the Final Solution” in a 2012 speech and rebuffed calls for a public retraction Wednesday.
“My intention was not to absolve Hitler of his responsibility,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement. “But rather to show that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation, without a country and without the so-called occupation, without land and without settlements, even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews.”
In an op-ed response on Wednesday, the Israeli publication Haaretz noted the negative outpouring across social media, many using sarcastic memes and hastags such as #muftisays and #themuftimademedoit.
Not everyone was outraged, however. Some were quick to champion Mr. Netanyahu’s comments. An article published on the website conservativepost.com carried the headline: “Netanyahu Drops TRUTH BOMB About HITLER and the PALESTINIANS.”
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Mrs. Merkel, would not respond directly to Mr. Netanyahu’s comments, but said Germany must take the blame for its own Nazi legacy.
“We are aware that this crime against humanity was Germany’s very own responsibility,” he told reporters in Berlin, according to the Associated Press. “It must never be forgotten, and I see no reason for us to change our picture of history in any way.”
— Guy Taylor contributed to this report.