When the Left Supported Netanyahu's Mufti-Hitler Claims

The Left has ridiculed Israel's Prime Minister from every barricade. But I.F.Stone, a patron saint of left-wing journalism, also suggested the Mufti helped Hitler concoct the Holocaust.

Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
Bundesarchiv / Wikimedia Commons

Now that Prime Minister Netanyahu has rowed back his remark about Hitler and the mufti, I wonder whether he’ll go sauntering off into the mists arm in arm with the late American leftist I.F. Stone. The thought crossed my mind when I read Chemi Shalev’s Haaretz column on the contretemps. Shalev turned up the fact that no less a leftwing icon than Isadore Feinstein Stone was among those who early on suggested that the mufti was an initiator of the Final Solution.

Netanyahu abandoned that line Friday in a posting on Facebook, where he clarified his remarks about the connection between the World War II-era Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and the Nazis. “In no way did I intend to absolve Hitler of his responsibility for the Holocaust,” the premier said, adding: “The Nazis saw in the Mufti a collaborator, but they did not need him to decide on the systematic destruction of European Jewry.”

Too bad we can’t hear from Stone, who died in 1989. It turns out that he, too, had suggested the mufti helped Hitler concoct the Holocaust. He did so in The Nation, America’s leading leftist magazine, which, sadly, in more recent decades has been hostile to the Zionist cause. Stone’s piece appeared in May 1946, when the Nation was still being edited by Freda Kirchwey, an arch-Zionist (albeit with a blind-spot in respect of Stalin).

Stone’s piece, an advance on the report of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, warned against permitting the mufti to return to Jerusalem. “If he returns,” Stone wrote, “he and his followers will again terrorize the moderate Arab leaders, as they did during the 1936-39 uprising.” He warned that the difficulties of the “responsible and moderate Jewish leadership” would “also be greatly increased.” Stone also feared the mufti’s return would result in a surge of Jewish terrorism.

That, Stone wrote, was because in testimony at Nuremburg the mufti had been “declared ‘one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry by the Germans.’” The testimony Stone cited was by a war criminal, Dieter Wisliceny, who’d been an officer in the S.S. After the war, Wisliceny tried to talk his way out of doom by distancing himself from Eichmann. He was unsuccessful and went to the gallows in 1948.

Wisliceny’s words themselves have been well-sifted, and it’s not my intention to tilt one way or another over his account. But what about the fact that he was being cited by I.F. Stone as evidence that the Mufti helped inspire the Final Solution? In the recent imbroglio the Left has been ridiculing Netanyahu from every barricade. Suddenly a patron saint of left-wing journalism turns out to have sung Netanyahu’s song. The Nation itself, in a piece issued in May 1947, elaborated on the Mufti’s complicity in the Holocaust. So how did the Left get from one side of that question to the other?    

It strikes me as a knot worth untangling. Particularly when everyone is so bent on peace with the Palestinian Arabs. After all, when Kirchwey was editing the Nation, the Left was leading the charge against the Palestinian Arabs. In 1948, The Nation issued and sent to the United Nations a memorandum called “The Record of Collaboration of King Farouk of Egypt with The Nazis and Their Ally, The Mufti.” 

That memo averred, among other things, that it was the mufti who persuaded Egypt to bomb Tel Aviv. It called the effort “in keeping with the secret pact between the mufti and Hitler, that in the event of one surviving, the survivor should undertake to carry out their joint purposes. Their fundamental purpose was the extermination of the Jews.”

Nowadays the New York Times can editorialize, as it did the other day, that the “only apparent purpose” to bring up the mufti’s maneuvering with Hitler is to “demonize the Palestinians” and “give the impression that their resistance is based solely on a longstanding hatred of the Jews, and not on their occupation by Israel or any other grievance.” 

Of course, I.F. Stone was no Jabotinsky. But he was no dummy either. Here he is concluding an essay in the New York Review of Books in 1967 after the liberation by Israel of Gaza and the West Bank: “The Arab populations now in the conquered territories make guerrilla war possible within Israel’s own boundaries. And externally, if enmity deepens and tension rises between Israel and the Arab states, both sides will by one means or another obtain nuclear weapons for the next round.”

“This will change the whole situation,” wrote Stone. “No longer will Israeli and Arab be able to play the game of war in anachronistic fashion as an extension of politics by other means.” Nor, he added, “will the great Powers be able to stand aside and let their satellites play out their little war, as in 1948, 1956, and 1967.” So maybe Netanyahu and Stone will, if but figuratively, stroll into the mists, talking about their beautiful friendship. Stranger things have happened.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.