Netanyahu Is Not the First Israeli Politician to Distort the Holocaust for Selfish Ends

Long before Netanyahu's Hitler-Mufti comments, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin made extensive use of the Holocaust for political and propaganda purposes.

Yechiam Weitz
Yechiam Weitz
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Menachem Begin before an image of David Ben-Gurion.Credit: Joseph Roth/GPO
Yechiam Weitz
Yechiam Weitz

As the son of a prominent historian, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not have said what he did about the “decisive role” of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in the process of destroying the Jews of Europe. A central reason is that Adolf Hitler did not need any help and encouragement from anyone in the world, including the mufti al-Husseini.

As far as Hitler was concerned, the Jewish question was a decisive point in his world view and psychological make-up. His viewpoint did not stem from an empirical or historical perspective, but was a priori ideological. To his last day Hitler was convinced that the goal of his murderous battle against the Jewish people was to redeem the entire world from “the Jewish death potion.”

To this day there is an incisive debate regarding Hitler’s place in the decision to carry out the Final Solution and in the monstrous process of its implementation. But all the scholars agree that without Hitler himself and without the total ideology that he disseminated, there would have been no Holocaust. Even without his specific order regarding absolute destruction, his followers absorbed the “spirit of the Fuehrer.” That’s why the prime minister’s words are no more than egregious ignorance.

We can see Netanyahu’s words in a different light. Netanyahu is not the first prime minister to make distorted and false use of the Holocaust for political and propaganda purposes. The first to do so was David Ben-Gurion, in order to justify his intention of fostering closer ties with West Germany. In 1960 Ben-Gurion claimed that the successors of the Nazis now were not the Germans but the Arabs. He wrote about that clearly: “Hitler and his regime were defeated and destroyed, and the present government of West Germany has recognized the responsibility of the German people for the Nazis' crimes ... but in the Middle East, in Egypt and Syria, the students of the Nazis want to destroy Israel, and that is the great danger awaiting us.”

Menachem Begin also made extensive use of the Holocaust. During the first Lebanon war Begin wrote a letter to “Dear Ron” (United States President Ronald Reagan), in which he claimed that the goal of the war was to “eliminate the leader of the terrorists, who is in western Beirut [Yasser Arafat]," comparing the Israel Defense Forces to the army “that was sent to Berlin in order to eliminate Hitler in his bunker.”

Therefore nobody is permitted to use the Holocaust like merchandise being sold at a discount - and especially not the prime minister of the Jewish state. Netanyahu must not turn the worst disaster in the history of the Jewish people from a tragedy into a farce.

The writer is a historian and lecturer at the Department of Land of Israel Studies at the University of Haifa.