JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being criticized for saying the mufti of Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews in a meeting between the two in 1941.
Netanyahu’s remarks about the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, came in a speech to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.
“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,’” Netanyahu said. When Hitler asked Husseini what to do with the Jews, Netanyahu said the mufti told the Nazi leader: “Burn them.”
The Israeli prime minister said the mufti was sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials “because he had a central role in fomenting the Final Solution.”
Israeli lawmakers were among the many critics who slammed Netanyahu for the remarks, saying he was distorting history and somehow blaming the Arabs, rather than Hitler, for the Final Solution.
“A historian’s son must be accurate about history,” Isaac Herzog, the Israeli opposition leader, wrote in a statement posted on his Facebook page. “This is a dangerous distortion of history, and I demand that Netanyahu correct this immediately since he is trivializing the Holocaust.”
Hitler’s plans for the Final Solution were in place before his 1941 meeting with the mufti, Holocaust historians say.
Arab Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said Netanyahu “is rewriting history in order to incite against the Palestinian people,” Haaretz reported.
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement, “Netanyahu hates Palestinians so much that he is willing to absolve Hitler of the murder of 6 million Jews.”
On Wednesday, Netanyahu sought to clarify his remarks.
“My intention was not to absolve Hitler of his responsibility, 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,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to exterminate six million Jews. He made the decision. It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a war criminal, for encouraging and urging Hitler, Ribbentropp, Himmler and others, to exterminate European Jewry,” he said.
The German government on Wednesday also responded to Netanyahu’s remarks, saying that “responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.”
Netanyahu travelled to Germany on Wednesday and is slated to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.