Hannah Arendt wrote, over 50 years ago, a famous and controversial book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, about (among other things) how the Holocaust led to the creation of Israel. If Benjamin Netanyahu were to write a book, a good title might be Eichmann’s from Jerusalem: How the Palestinians are Responsible for the Holocaust. For decades right-wing Israelis have been saying that the Palestinians are like the Nazis. Now they are arguing that the Palestinians were the original Nazis, and that the Nazis needed to take lessons from them in Jew-hatred.
All the verdicts of historians are in; Benjamin Netnayahu obviously was wrong, grievously wrong in claiming that before their meeting in November 1941, Adolf Hitler was uncertain about whether to exterminate European Jewry, and that all it took was a few choice words from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, to convince him to proceed with the Holocaust. But as every historian has pointed out, the Holocaust started with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The murders in Babi Yar took place that October. By November 1941, the first extermination camps, in Belzec and Chelmno, were under construction. There is an immense literature turning on precisely the question of when and how Hitler decided to exterminate European Jewry. It’s not an easy question. The details were limited to a small circle and shrouded in euphemisms like the “final solution.” (And Hitler was very unlikely to talk about it to an outsider like the Mufti.) No serious history of the Holocaust has ever suggested that the Mufti played any role whatsoever in Hitler’s decision to murder the Jews.
The only question about Netanyahu’s statement is whether he was ignorant of the facts of history, or he was simply lying. Judging from his record, Netanyahu has never shied away from bold lies, racist (warning of droves of Arab citizens at the voting booth), or defaming Israeli leaders (the late Yitzhak Rabin) or whatever expediency dictates.
Netanyahu’s latest attempt at revisionist history, took place Tuesday at the World Zionist Congress and this time it landed him in political hot water in the international media. The Prime minister told World Zionist Congress that Hitler only wanted to expel the Jews, but Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti convinced him to exterminate them.
Internationally, Netanyahu’s statement is dangerous because it gives support to gleeful Neo Nazis. One can only imagine the dismay of Germany’s Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, who publicly refused Netanyahu’s Hitler cleansing.
But the fact is that Tuesday was not the first time that Netanyahu whitewashed Hitler; he said it in the Israeli Knesset on 2012. He said that it was Haj Amin al-Husseini who convinced Hitler to execute the Final Solution, while Hitler wanted to let the Jews leave Europe. We have not heard about it in 2012 probably because Netanyahu said it locally, in the Israeli Knesset where his audience is used to hearing Palestinians blamed for everything.
The real danger for Israel is that Netanyahu speaks for a section of Israeli Jews that gives overt and covert support to Jewish terrorists who have no regard for the rule of law. The prime minister’s mythologizing allows and promotes endemic denial of what goes on the ground of occupation and settlements.
In the history of Zionism and Zionist ideology, the Grand Mufti has always been one of its chief villains. He was an odious man, a vile anti-Semite, and certainly an important figure in the history of Mandatory Palestine. But right-wing Zionists have always tended to exaggerate his role and influence, and imply that Palestinians today are merely following in the Mufti’s footsteps, waiting with an exterminationist rage, to kill every last Jew in Israel. With his statement, the only conclusion one can draw is that Benjamin Netanyahu hates the Palestinians more than he hates the Nazis, that he hates the Palestinians so much that even the crimes of Hitler have become secondary.
Sometimes gaffes reveal more than all the polished and measured words, how people actually think. And this is the reality in Israel today. For many, the Palestinians have replaced the Nazis as the greatest enemy of the Jewish people of all time. It is a sign of how desperate the current situation is, and how far it is from any resolution.
It is astonishing, however, that those who never hesitate at every crisis to call on the Holocaust have been willing to let Netanyahu whitewash Hitler.