Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused controversy during his speech at the 37th Zionist Conference last week. He suggested that the ‘Final Solution‘, which lead to the deaths of 11 million people, 6 million of them Jewish, was not the brainchild of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, but rather the response of a leader of the Muslim community at the time, the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini.
Netanyahu claimed that during a meeting with Hitler, al-Husseini convinced Hitler not to simply deport the Jews, but to ‘burn them’. This is not the first time that Netanyahu has made such claims, describing al-Husseini in 2012 as one of the ‘leading architects’ of the Holocaust, and he is not alone with making such accusations. ‘Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East’, a 2014 book by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, draws a direct link between Hitler’s attempt to support al-Husseini and the Holocaust.
These remarks both made in the book and by Netenyahu have drawn controversy and criticism from both the International and Israeli communities, with the chief historian of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem stating the accusations as ‘not true’, and Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog calling the remarks a ‘dangerous historical distortion’.
Perhaps most serious is the response from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who proclaimed:
Responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.
Haj Amin al-Husseini is a controversial figure in history, and his dealings with the Nazi party, in particular his role in raising Muslim volunteers for the Waffen-SS (who went on to commit atrocious crimes in the Balkans) led to calls for him to be tried for war crimes. These facts however do not allow Netanyahu to spread false information about the Holocaust for political gain. The Nazi party had instigated anti-Jewish policies since rising to power in the 1930’s, orchestrated the massacre of 33,771 Jews at Babi Yar two months before Hitler had ever met al-Husseini. Whilst historians debate as to when the policy of a ‘Final Solution’ was decided upon, the responsibility lies with the regime who would go on to commit an industrial genocide the likes of which the world has not seen since.
Netanyahu’s comments drive a further wedge between the Israeli and Palestinian people, especially during another period of worsening tensions following a spate of shootings and stabbings against both Palestinians and Israelis. His attempts to whitewash the truth and absolve those responsible in favour of political gain can only be seen as deplorable. Remarks that try to change history for personal gain play directly into the hands of those who have always sought to deny events like the Holocaust and praise members of the Nazi Party. Merkel stated that the Holocaust ‘is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten’.
Distorting and defiling the memory of such a great tragedy is not only an insult to the millions of victims, but risks opening a pandora’s box of historical falsification. Santayana’s famous remark “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is more relevant now than ever, and Netanyahu’s comments must be universally denounced. The Holocaust should never be used as a tool for political point scoring, and doing so can only damage the memory of those who suffered at the hands of it.