It's always rather fun when world leaders make historical mistakes. As a historian, I roll over laughing. In 2005, for example, the emir of Qatar got it wrong when counting the presidential elections in Iran. That was a small mistake, of course, but emirs and kings are not supposed to make them, if they have good advisers whispering in their ear. Back in 1989, due to poor English, Yasser Arafat denounced "global tourism" rather than "global terrorism." When running for office, George W. Bush was unable to name Pervez Musharraf, the high-profile general who had just seized power in Pakistan. These were innocent mistakes, born out of ignorance rather than deliberate malice. They are nothing compared to what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week at the 37th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. His words were no mistake; they were a deliberate distortion of history--made for political reasons. The only thing they achieved, however, was adding Benjamin Netanyahu to the long list of Holocaust Deniers.
By definition, Holocaust Denial includes claiming that Nazi Germany's Final Solution only aimed at deporting the Jews, and no policy of exterminating them. Addressing the congress this October, Netanyahu accused the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Hussein, rather than Adolph Hitler, of initiating the Holocaust. The red-haired Jerusalemite cleric had the Fuhrer's ear and he seemingly nudged him into exterminating the Jews--according to the Israeli Premier. Referring to their high profile meeting in Berlin in November 1941, Netanyahu claimed: "Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time; he wanted to expel the Jew. Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, 'If you expel them, they'll all come here (to Palestine)." According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: "What should I do with them?" and the Mufti replied: "Burn them."
Although I have little affection for the Grand Mufti, I have studied plenty of books related to his times, including his own memoirs, and written a lot about him given that he was highly involved with Syrian nationalists. I have also lectured about him for years and interviewed his friends and family members, including his own daughter. Among those who had discussed Hitler with the Mufti were Maarouf al-Dawalibi, a native of Aleppo who became prime minister of Syria in 1951 and Munir al-Ajlani, a university professor turned politician who served as Damascus MP and cabinet minister from the 1930s to the 1950s. Both confirmed that Hajj Amin was indeed a big fan of Adolph Hitler and at later stages of life, an avid Holocaust Denier. He didn't relocate to Berlin only for political reasons--he truly believed in Hitler and wanted him to win the war. Never in his private talks, however, did he ever brag that he had triggered the Holocaust, as Netanyahu just said. If he had anything to do with it, of course he would have endlessly bragged about it for years to come. Simply he would have claimed it himself after Hitler's death in 1945.
What Hajj Amin did do was recruit Arab and European Muslims into the Nazi Party. Starting in 1939, three Arabic broadcasts were made from Zeesen, south of Berlin, by the Mufti himself, with a total of ninety-five minutes daily. During his meeting with Hitler, Hajj Amin said that he thanked him "again and again" for his Final Solution. He also said that "the Arab people pledge to Your Excellency, Great Fuhrer, sentiments of friendship and admiration." Hajj Amin concluded that Hitler was "admired by the entire Arab world" and suggested training young Muslims from Europe, namely Bosnia, to fight alongside the Third Reich. He also requested arms for the Palestinians. Hitler reportedly told the Mufti: "When we have arrived in the southern Caucasus, then the time for liberation of the Arabs will have come--and you can rely on my word." If he won the war, he added, he would make sure to expel the British from Egypt and Palestine, and the French from Syria and Lebanon. None of Hajj Amin's friends ever said anything about him asking Hitler to "burn the Jews."
When the Nazis stormed Paris, they found a stack of letters, dated 1936, from the Zionist Agency to then-Prime Minister Leon Blum, a socialist Jew. According to Hitler, they asked him to abort a Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence, just signed in Blum's name that September. Hitler reportedly handed the letters to Hajj Amin and said: "Look at what the Zionists did to your friends the Syrians." Maarouf al-Dawalibi, who worked at Hajj Amin's office in Berlin during World War II, added that before Hitler committed suicide, he had arranged for a Nazi plane to fly the Mufti out of Germany to safety in Saudi Arabia. This was the job of Heinrich Himmler, another "friend" of Hajj Amin. "The respect was two-way and Hitler didn't want the Allies to harm him." Due to the aggressive Allied bombing of Berlin, the exit plan was put off until after Hitler's death, and when it was time for execution, the Nazis said that the German plane had room for one passenger only. Hajj Amin was forced to part ways with his twenty Arab staffers in Berlin, Dawalibi included. The destination was changed from Saudi Arabia to Switzerland, adds Dawalibi, but Hajj Amin's plane was intercepted, forced to land, and he was arrested and deported to France. The French arrested him and wanted to send him for trial at Nuremberg that November along with 23 top Nazi officials. Maarouf al-Dawalibi traveled secretly to France and managed to smuggle the Mufti to Cairo from his village on the outskirts of Paris.
I trust Maarouf al-Dawalibi's version of history, along with all that has been said and written about Hajj Amin's meeting with Hitler. Why then did Netanyahu distort such a well-known chapter of World War II history? Was it wishful thinking, or does the Israeli Prime Minister have access to new documents that we don't? Netanyahu might have been just trying to add further historical luggage on the Palestinians, as a new wave of violence unfolds between them and Israelis , sparking off lone wolf attacks that some people are already calling an "Intifada of Knives." By blaming it all on the Mufti, Netanyahu was actually trying to say that the Palestinians deserve whatever is happening to them today. Instead of rallying the world against them, however, and making Hajj Amin the subject of global spite and condemnation, what Benyamin Netanyahu actually just did was exonerate Hitler--very unintentionally putting himself and Hajj Amin en par as Holocaust Deniers.