Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked on his position regarding the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem in the Holocaust Friday, saying that it was the Nazis, and not Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had decided to exterminate European Jewry, and said he never attempted to "absolve [Adolf] Hitler of his responsibility for the Holocaust."
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"Contrary to the impression that was created, I did not mean to claim that in his conversation with Hitler in November 1941 the Mufti convinced him to adopt the Final Solution. The Nazis decided on that by themselves," the prime minister said, labeling any such interpretation of his comments as "absurd."
In reality Netanyahu's announcement wasn't a clarification but a complete rejection of his previous comments.
Netanyahu sparked public uproar two weeks ago when he claimed that al-Husseini was the one who planted the idea of killing Europe's Jews in Hitler's mind. The Nazi ruler, Netanyahu said at the time, had no intention of killing the Jews, but only to expel them.
"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 (to Palestine).' According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: "What should I do with them?" and the mufti replied: "Burn them."
On Friday, Netanyahu posted a clarification on his Facebook page, writing "Hitler and the Nazi leadership are responsible for the murder of six million Jews. The decision to move from a policy of deporting Jews to the Final Solution was made by the Nazis and was not dependent on outside influence."
Nonetheless, Netanyahu stressed that "the Nazis saw in the Mufti a collaborator" and he was "one of those who supported the Nazi goal of destroying the Jews."
Netanyahu's initial remarks were widely dismissed by historians and Holocaust scholars as a gross overstatement of the Muslim leader's role in the Holocaust, with Palestinian leaders and some analysts saying it was a political attempt to link the Palestinians with the murder of six million European Jews. Recent articles have also pointed to a link between Netanyahu's comments and his father's historical and political work.
In his post, Netanyahu defended his remarks as an attempt to "illustrate the murderous approach of the Mufti to the Jews in his lengthy contacts with the Nazi leadership," an approach Netanyahu claimed still lives on today.
"The Mufti was a war criminal who collaborated with the Nazis and who opposed the creation of a Jewish state in any boundaries. In 2013 President Abbas praised him as a Palestinian 'pioneer.' That the Mufti remains an iconic figure among the Palestinian leadership today speaks volumes about that leadership’s real attitude towards Israel."
"It was important for me to point out that even before World War II it was the Mufti who propagated the big lie that the Jews intend to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. This lie lives on and continues to exact a price in blood," he said in relation to recent tensions on the Temple Mount compound, sparked, in part, by rumors that Israel was planning to take over the site, which is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest in Islam, and the Jewish Western Wall.
The claim that Husseini was the one to initiate the extermination of European Jewry had been suggested by a number of historians at the fringes of Holocaust research, but was rejected by most accepted scholars.
The argument concerning Husseini's role was recently mentioned in a book by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, "Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East." The authors, like Netanyahu, draw a straight line between the mufti's support of Hitler and the policy of the Palestinian Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat.