Benjamin Netanyahu Image Credit: AFP

Ramallah: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked controversy on Wednesday, hours before a visit to Germany, by saying the former Palestinian elder in Jerusalem convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews.

In a speech to the Zionist Congress late on Tuesday, Netanyahu referred to a series of attacks by Muslims against Jews in Palestine during the 1920s that he said were instigated by the then Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Hussaini.

Al Hussaini flew to visit Hitler in Berlin in 1941, and Netanyahu said that meeting was instrumental in the Nazi leader’s decision to launch a campaign to annihilate the Jews.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said in the speech. “And Haj Amin Al Hussaini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ “’So what should I do with them?’” Netanyahu said Hitler asked the mufti, who responded: “Burn them.” Netanyahu was quickly harangued by opposition politicians and experts on the Holocaust who said he was distorting the historical record.

Palestinian officials said Netanyahu appeared to be absolving Hitler of the murder of six million Jews in order to lay the blame on Palestinian Muslims. Twitter was awash with criticism.

“It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews,” Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s secretary general, said.

“Mr Netanyahu should stop using this human tragedy to score points for his political end,” said Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with the Israelis.

Dr Saleh Abdul Jawad, history professor at Beir Zeit University said Netanyahu’s comments were fabricated lies. “We stand here before a horrifying fabrication put out there just as a way to fake truths and facts,” he told Gulf News.

He said that the Palestinians had never had any relationship with the Nazis.

Germany, he explained, did not need Haj Amin Al Husseini to advise the Germans and Hitler on how to handle and what to do with the Jews. He suggested that it was the Zionists who collaborated with the Nazis in 1935 to send Europe’s Jews to Palestine.

On his part, Dr. Najeh Bakeerat, a history professor at Al Quds University said that Al Husseini met the Nazi leader to gain support for Palestinian national aspirations in the face of Zionism and demanded an immediate suspension of the Jewish immigration to Palestine. He added that the Arabs were Hitler’s second target and it was illogical for Al Hesseini to demand and encourage the burning of the Jews and later to reach the Arabs.

“This is not Netanyahu’s first lie and will not be HIS last,” he said.

Even Netanyahu’s defence minister, close ally Moshe Yaalon, said the prime minister had got it wrong.

“It certainly wasn’t [Al Hussaini] who invented the Final Solution,” Yaalon told Israel’s Army Radio. “That was the evil brainchild of Hitler himself.” It is not clear what sources Netanyahu was relying on for his comments. A 1947 book ‘The Mufti of Jerusalem’ and a newspaper report at the time claimed that a former Hitler deputy had testified at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that Al Hussaini had plotted with the Nazi leader to rid Europe of its Jews.

But the point several historians made was that Netanyahu was distorting timelines and drawing false conclusions.

The meeting between Al Hussaini and Hitler in Berlin took place on November 28, 1941. More than two years earlier, in January 1939, Hitler had addressed the Reichstag and talked clearly about his determination to exterminate Jews.

— With inputs from Reuters