More insights on the terror wave in Israel/Bibi’s Holocaust gaffe
Oct 23, 2015
Update from AIJAC
October 23, 2015
Number 10/15 #07
This Updates leads with some additional knowledgeable insights into what is fuelling the current wave of murderous violence in Israel – with Palestinians on a daily basis attacking Jews at random throughout the country, often using knives. (Yesterday saw two attackers with knives try to board a school bus then stab a teenager outside a a synagogue in Bet Shemesh, plus a series of attacks in the West Bank which left five Israelis wounded.)
It also includes some expert comment from a historian on the widely-criticised gaffe by Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, when he appeared to say in a speech that Hitler was convinced to change his anti-Jewish policy from one of expulsion to one of extermination by the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem – a view rejected by almost all scholars of the subject.
First up is Washington Institute expert David Makovsky, in testimony to a US Congressional Committee. Makovsky does an excellent job of discussing the issues, history and incitement surrounding the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He also importantly offers some sensible suggestions about what can be done to end the violence, including involving Jordan’s King Abdullah and codifying officially the “status quo”, and Israel finding ways to better communicate with east Jerusalem Palestinians. For his complete analysis and discussion, CLICK HERE. Subsequent to Makovksy’s testimony, the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the US Congress unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Palestinians for inciting violence against Israel.
Next is American journalist and frequent commentator on the Middle East Jeffrey Goldberg, who tries to put the incitement regarding the Mount into a larger context. He notes a parallel between the way the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, used emotive but false claims about the Temple Mount to spark violence against Jews in 1929 with what is happening today. Goldberg also notes that a knee-jerk tendency outside Israel to blame “occupation” and “settlements” for any Palestinian violence obscures the reality that for many Palestinians, the conflict “is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic entity (Israel)” doomed to disappear – meaning for them, Jews have neither national nor religious rights on the Temple Mount or anywhere else. For Goldberg’s complete and important argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, historian Jeffrey Herf looks at the truth and the falsehoods behind Netanyahu’s mistaken claims about Hitler and the Mufti of Jerusalem (the same Haj Amin al-Husseini mentioned for inciting anti-Jewish violence in 1929 by Goldberg.) Herf, whose own scholarly work is mainly about the effects of Nazi propaganda on the Middle East, makes it clear that Netanyahu was badly wrong in attributing so much influence over Hitler to the Mufti – but also makes it clear that Netanyahu is correct that the Mufti’s pro-Nazi, pro-genocide of Jews stance has long had profound effects on Palestinian society. Herf discusses both what scholars know about Hitler’s decision-making and about the Mufti’s views, role and later influence in some detail. For Herf’s complete discussion, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Some Arab views offering sanity in opposition to the current incitement to stab Israeli Jews. But the head of a Gaza University says all Israeli Jews – including women and babies – are “fair game” and should be attacked with bombs, while a cleric and TV host swears on the Koran “We will not leave a single Jew, dead or alive, on our land.”
- More examples of the ongoing incitement to anti-Jewish violence here, here and here.
- A New York Post editorial on UNESCO’s acceptance of a resolution on the violence in Israel that the paper describes as “extra-ugly” and “utterly unreal.”
- Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ostensibly accepts the Iranian nuclear deal – but places nine conditions on his acceptance that appear to contradict the terms of the deal as signed.
- Isi Leibler writes about the need for American Jewish leaders to speak up about the Obama Administration’s problematic approach to Israel.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Or Avi-Guy on how the Palestinian Authority is trying to turn the murderers of the current terror wave into innocent victims.
- Ahron Shapiro offers some facts – sourced from the vehemently left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz, no less – showing that, contrary to frequently-heard claims, there has been a slow-down, not an increase, in construction in West Bank settlements over recent years.
- Top Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari explained on ABC-TV “Lateline” what is really happening in Israel.
- Or Avi-Guy on how the Palestinian Authority is trying to turn the murderers of the current terror wave into innocent victims.
Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Featuring David Makovsky
October 22, 2015
Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, and Distinguished Members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the ongoing volatility in Jerusalem. It needs to be handled with supreme caution.
In addressing the situation today, it should be clear that there is no justification for any incitement to violence. When you say that Israel wants to undermine the status of the al-Aqsa Mosque or change the status quo on the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif, it is equivalent to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, given the role that such allegations have played in provoking past violence.
As Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with National Public Radio last Friday, “There’s no excuse for the violence. No amount of frustration is appropriate to license any violence anywhere at any time. No violence should occur. And the Palestinians need to understand, and President [Mahmoud] Abbas has been committed to nonviolence. He needs to be condemning this, loudly and clearly. And he needs to not engage in some of the incitement that his voice has sometimes been heard to encourage. So that has to stop.”
This incitement includes public remarks by President Abbas, during which he said that “every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure. Every martyr will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God.” He has also said that Jews “have no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet.” Abbas has not renounced these statements, and in recent days he has called for “popular nonviolent struggle.” (This is not to say that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not made some questionable statements of his own. Recently, he said that the leader of the Palestinian national movement in the 1940s was more adamant about killing Jews than Adolf Hitler, a claim that has been refuted by Holocaust historians.)
Sadly, the charge that Israel is out to destroy the mosque is not new. This claim was made in 1929, resulting in riots in Hebron that killed 63 people. More recently, fatal violence surrounding the Temple Mount occurred in 1991 (20 killed), 1996 (87 killed), 2000 (153 killed within the first month of violence), and 2014 (9 killed). I want to be clear that this does not mean that all Palestinians favor this approach. In fact, more than 400 Jews were saved in 1929, when many found refuge in the homes of Palestinians.
A few things need to occur to ensure that this pattern is not repeated. First, there needs to be an honest acknowledgment that the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif is holy to both Muslims and Jews. Israeli leaders of all stripes have asserted the sanctity of the area to Muslims since the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. The reverse has not been the case. The Palestinian leadership does not tell its public that the area also has historical significance for the Jewish people.
Ancient Jewish history was defined by the Temple eras — one lasting 410 years and another lasting 420 years. When the Temples were destroyed, so were the first two Jewish commonwealths, ending finally in 70 C.E. It took until 1948, or close to 1,900 years, for that longing for sovereignty to be restored. At the Camp David summit in 2000, Yasser Arafat famously angered President Bill Clinton by denying that the Temples existed — saying they were located instead in Nablus or even Yemen. Clinton reportedly responded that every Sunday school student in Arkansas knew this was not the case. Anyone who has been to a Jewish wedding knows there is a breaking of the glass, done to indicate that even the most joyous occasion is mixed with sorrow, recalling the destruction of those Temples. For close to two thousand years, Jews have prayed three times a day in the direction of the Temple Mount. It is the Zion of Zionism.
The vast majority of Jews in Israel and around the world do not attempt to pray on the Temple Mount. If Jews have not ascended the Temple Mount, it is not because it is not holy but because it is too holy. From 1967 to today, the Chief Rabbinate has forbidden Jews from visiting the area, believing this should only occur during the messianic age. A few radical Israeli activists and even some politicians, including Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, have nonetheless recently visited the Mount. They believe that archaeology has provided a far more precise perimeter of the Mount, as it existed historically, and that, therefore, they can more precisely avert its exact location. These proponents favor Jewish prayer in what they consider the permitted section of the Mount, but this is bound to lead to bloodshed. Yuval Diskin, former head of the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, echoed the view of many who oppose Jewish prayer on the Mount, since it is “the most fuel-saturated flammable area in the Middle East.” To its credit, the Netanyahu government has refused to change the status quo.
Ironically, this lack of acknowledgment on the Palestinian side was historically not always the case. A pamphlet for tourists visiting al-Haram published by the Supreme Muslim Council in 1924 said the fact that al-Aqsa is built on the site of Solomon’s Temple is “beyond dispute.” However, the intertwining of religion and nationalism ensured that this historical acknowledgment was erased. Of course, neither side has to accept the narrative of the other as sacrosanct. Yet if they cannot acknowledge that the other side reveres the site as they do, violence is bound to continue, as we have seen. Understanding that both sides have religious rights seems to be a prerequisite for calming the situation.
While the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif issue has been the primary cause of violence in Jerusalem in the last twenty years, other factors have led to violence. For example, during the summer of 2014, a Palestinian teenager was killed as tensions roiled over the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teens, which indirectly contributed to the outbreak of the ensuing war in Gaza. Moreover, none of this is to rule out economic factors possibly affecting the violence. Observers believe Israel’s ambiguity in heavily investing in Palestinian-sector infrastructure is due to the notion that Israel may yield these neighborhoods in any final deal with the Palestinians. It is estimated that three-fourths of the 316,000 Palestinians in the city live below the poverty line. Palestinians see their status in limbo, as Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem flourish.
So what can be done? When such allegations surfaced last year, Secretary Kerry, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Jordan’s King Abdullah were able to meet in Amman and defuse the situation. Historically, Jordan has been the Arab custodian of the Temple Mount. Indeed, this week, Kerry is meeting with Netanyahu, Abdullah, and Abbas to see what can be done to defuse the situation. In principle, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority all have an interest in quelling instability, which only serves to benefit extremists. While all sides say they do not want to change the status quo, the problem is that the status quo on the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif has not been delineated in an explicit set of understandings. If there were trust between Israelis and Palestinians, perhaps verbal understandings would be sufficient, but this is not the case today. The U.S. government can be helpful in reaching a set of understandings between the parties to measure the status quo going forward. In order to be effective, this would need to be publicly reaffirmed by Jordan. Such a three-way agreement, among Kerry, Netanyahu, and Abdullah, should then be acknowledged by Abbas. Hopefully, making such understandings explicit would add a vital measure of predictability to an unpredictable situation.
Israel needs to also find a way to communicate better with Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Israel has been called the “start-up nation,” given the success of its high-tech sector. In the recent war in Gaza, Israel used its high-tech prowess to communicate to Gaza residents. Israel was able to limit civilian casualties by sending text messages to Gazans, telling them to evacuate their homes in advance of airstrikes. If Israel can reach those Palestinians, why can’t they text Palestinians in East Jerusalem in Arabic and deny rumors about changing the status quo on the Temple Mount?
Of course, when dealing with an issue as volatile as the Israeli-Palestinian issue, there is a tendency to throw up your hands in despair. I would kindly caution against such a move, given how much is at stake. Since October, ten Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks. Twenty-six Palestinian assailants were killed and more than twenty additional Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank. However, the scale of violence has not approached that of the second Palestinian intifada. Between 2000 and 2004, four thousand people were killed — approximately three thousand Palestinians and one thousand Israelis — and the number injured was far greater than what we see today.
It reminds us that as bad as the situation is, it could get far worse. Some people might say, well, let’s just cease funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Yet it is important to remember that Israeli and PA security officials are engaged in daily security cooperation that is vital not just for Palestinians but for Israelis too. This is the view of top Israeli security officials. Benny Gantz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces until a few months ago, said in a recent speech at my own Washington Institute: “We need to stick to security and give up the dreams as we would like to have them — all governments of Israel have [expressed support for a] two-state solution.” Similarly, in a 2014 op-ed, Yuval Diskin wrote, “The coordination between the security forces has [made] a significant contribution [to] the relative quiet” in the West Bank. He called this cooperation better than ever, despite the impasse in peace negotiations since 2007. He said that the PA “understands that Israel’s security is central to their survival in the struggle with Hamas in the West Bank.”
We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the killing of Israel’s iconic premier and 1967 war hero, Yitzhak Rabin. He was known as a hardened realist. Nobody could call him a dreamy peacenik. Yet he understood an important insight. The traumas of Israelis and Palestinians will require them to separate and avoid a de facto binational reality, a recipe for permanent bloodshed. This insight underscores the need to continue working for separate political entities, one Israeli and one Palestinian, and for dignity for both peoples. We cannot afford to give up. Given the bloodshed in Jerusalem, Palestinians must come to grips with the fact that both peoples do not just have political rights but also a religious connection to the land based on their own history. If that recognition is not reached, I worry that violence will continue to periodically erupt and possibly intensify.
David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.
Back to Top
Knife attacks on Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere are not based on Palestinian frustration over settlements, but on something deeper.
The Atlantic, Oct 16, 2015
In September of 1928, a group of Jewish residents of Jerusalem placed a bench in front of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, for the comfort of elderly worshipers. They also brought with them a wooden partition, to separate the sexes during prayer. Jerusalems Muslim leaders treated the introduction of furniture into the alleyway in front of the Wall as a provocation, part of a Jewish conspiracy to slowly take control of the entire Temple Mount.
Many of the leaders of Palestines Muslims believedor claimed to believethat Jews had manufactured a set of historical and theological connections to the Western Wall and to the Mount, the site of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, in order to advance the Zionist project. This belief defied Muslim historythe Dome of the Rock was built by Jerusalems Arab conquerors on the site of the Second Jewish Temple in order to venerate its memory (the site had previously been defiled by Jerusalems Christian rulers as a kind of rebuke to Judaism, the despised mother religion of Christianity). Jews themselves consider the Mount itself to be the holiest site in their faith. The Western Wall, a large retaining wall from the Second Temple period, is sacred only by proxy.
The spiritual leader of Palestines Muslims, the mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, incited Arabs in Palestine against their Jewish neighbors by arguing that Islam itself was under threat. (Husseini would later become one of Hitlers most important Muslim allies.) Jews in British-occupied Palestine responded to Muslim invective by demanding more access to the Wall, sometimes holding demonstrations at the holy site. By the next year, violence directed against Jews by their neighbors had become more common: Arab rioters took the lives of 133 Jews that summer; British forces killed 116 Arabs in their attempt to subdue the riots. In Hebron, a devastating pogrom was launched against the citys ancient Jewish community after Muslim officials distributed fabricated photographs of a damaged Dome of the Rock, and spread the rumor that Jews had attacked the shrine.
The current stabbing Intifada now taking place in Israela quasi-uprising in which young Palestinians have been trying, and occasionally succeeding, to kill Jews with knivesis prompted in good part by the same set of manipulated emotions that sparked the anti-Jewish riots of the 1920s: a deeply felt desire on the part of Palestinians to protect the Temple Mount from Jews.
When Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem in June of 1967 in response to a Jordanian attack, the first impulse of some Israelis was to assert Jewish rights atop the Mount. Between 1948, the year Israel achieved independence, and 1967, Jordan, then the occupying power in Jerusalem, banned Jews not only from the 35-acre Mountwhich is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, the noble sanctuarybut also from the Western Wall below. When paratroopers took the Old City, they raised the Israeli flag atop the Dome of the Rock, but the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Dayan, ordered it taken down, and soon after promised leaders of the Muslim Waqf, the trust that controlled the mosque and the shrine, that Israel would not interfere in its activities. Since then, successive Israeli governments have maintained the status quo established by Dayan.
There is another status quo associated with the Temple Mount, however, that has been showing signs of weakening. This is a religious status quo. The mainstream rabbinical view for many years has been that Jews should not walk atop the Mount for fear of treading on the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple that, according to tradition, housed the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies is the room in which the Jewish high priest spoke the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable name of God, on Yom Kippur.
The exact location of the Holy of Holies is not known, and Muslim authorities have prevented archeologists from conducting any excavations on the Mount, in part out of fear that such explorations will uncover further evidence of a pre-Islamic Jewish presence. This mainstream rabbinical view concerning the Mountthat it should be the direction of Jewish prayer, rather than a place of Jewish prayerhas made the lives of Jerusalems temporal authorities easier, by keeping Muslim and Jewish worshippers separated.
In recent years, however, small groups of radical religious innovators who oppose the mainstream rabbinical view have sought to make the Mount, once again, a site of Jewish prayer. (Here is a New York Times Magazine story I wrote about these radical groups.) These activists have gained sympathizers among some far-right political figures in Israel, though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not altered the separation-of-religions status quo.
One of the tragedies of the settlement movement is that it obscures what might be the actual root cause of the Middle East conflict.
Convincing Palestinians that the Israeli government is not trying to alter the status quo on the Mount has been difficult because many of todays Palestinian leaders, in the manner of the Palestinian leadership of the 1920s, actively market rumors that the Israeli government is seeking to establish atop the Mount a permanent Jewish presence.
The comments of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbasby general consensus the most moderate leader in the brief history of the Palestinian national movementhave been particularly harsh. Though Abbas has authorized Palestinian security services to work with their Israeli counterparts to combat extremist violence, his rhetoric has inflamed tensions. Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every martyr will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God, he said last month, as rumors about the Temple Mount swirled. He went on to say that Jews have no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet. Taleb Abu Arrar, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset, Israels parliament, argued publicly that Jews desecrate the Temple Mount by their presence. (Fourteen years ago, Yasser Arafat, then the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told me that Jewish authorities are forging history by saying the Temple stood on the Haram al-Sharif. Their temple was somewhere else.)
These sorts of comments, combined with the violence of the past two weeksincluding the sacking and burning of a Jewish shrine outside Nablussuggest a tragic continuity between the 1920s and today. For those who believe not only in the necessity, but in the practical possibility, of an equitable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflictand in particular, for those who believe that the post-1967 settlement project is the root cause of the conflictrecent events have been sobering.
One of the tragedies of the settlement movement is that it obscures what might be the actual root cause of the Middle East conflict: the unwillingness of many Muslim Palestinians to accept the notion that Jews are a people who are indigenous to the land Palestinians believe to be exclusively their own, and that the third-holiest site in Islam is also the holiest site of another religion, one whose adherents reject the notion of Muslim supersessionism. The status quo on the Temple Mount is prudent and must remain in place. It saves lives, lives fundamentalist Jewish radicals would risk in order to advance their millennial dreams. But it is the byproduct of the intolerance of Jerusalems Muslim leadership.
When violence against Jews occurs inside Israel, or on the West Bank, a consensus tends to be reached quickly by outside analysts and political leaders, one that holds that such violence represents the inevitable consequence of Israels occupation and settlement of Palestinian territory. John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, said in an appearance earlier this week at Harvard that, Whats happening is that unless we get going, a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody. And theres been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years. He went on to say, Now you have this violence because theres a frustration that is growing, and a frustration among Israelis who dont see any movement.
(On Friday morning, speaking with NPRs Steve Inskeep, Kerry revised and extended his comments, criticizing Abbasin a passive way for the violence: There’s no excuse for the violence. … And the Palestinians need to understand, and President Abbas has been committed to nonviolence. He needs to be condemning this, loudly and clearly. And he needs to not engage in some of the incitement that his voice has sometimes been heard to encourage.)
It is sometimes difficult for policymakers such as Kerry, who has devoted so much time and energy to the search for a solution to the Israeli-Arab impasse, to acknowledge the power of a particular Palestinian narrative, one that obviates the possibility of a solution that allows Jews national and religious equality. Writing in Haaretz, the left-center political scientist Shlomo Avineri describes an important disconnect that often goes unnoticed, even in times like these: Many Palestinians believe that this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic entity (Israel). He goes on to write, According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomenait will perish and disappear. Moreover, according to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination which is, after all, a universal imperative.
Avineri, like most sensible analysts, understands the many and variegated reasons for the continued failure of the peace process:
[M]utual distrust between the two populations, internal pressures from the rejectionists on both sides, Yasser Arafats repeated deceptions, the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the electoral victories of Likud in Israeli elections, Palestinian terrorism, continuing Israeli settlement activities in the territories, the bloody rift between Fatah and Hamas, American presidents who did too little (George W. Bush) or too much and in a wrong way (Barack Obama), the political weakness of Mahmoud Abbas, governments headed by Netanyahu that did everything possible to undermine effective negotiations. All this is true, and everyone picks and chooses what fits their views and interestsbut beyond all these lies a fundamental difference in the terms in which each side views the conflict, a difference many tend or choose to overlook.
The violence of the past two weeks, encouraged by purveyors of rumors who now have both Israeli and Palestinian blood on their hands, is rooted not in Israeli settlement policy, but in a worldview that dismisses the national and religious rights of Jews. There will not be peace between Israelis and Palestinians so long as parties on both sides of the conflict continue to deny the national and religious rights of the other.
Back to Top
by Jeffrey Herf
The Times of Israel, October 22, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about Haj Amin al-Husseini’s impact on Hitler’s decision-making about the Final Solution in Europe do not stand up to the consensus of historical research. Husseini’s importance in Nazi Berlin lay far more in assisting the Third Reich’s Arabic language propaganda toward the Arab world and in mobilizing Muslims in Eastern Europe to support the Nazi regime. That said, Netanyahu’s comments about Husseini’s lasting impact on Palestinian political culture are very much on the mark.
In his now famous comments at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on October 20, Netanyahu claimed that Haj Amin al-Husseini convinced Hitler to change his anti-Jewish policy from one of expulsion to one of extermination. “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time [of the meeting between the mufti and the Nazi leader]. He wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here [to mandatory Palestine],'” continued the prime minister. “‘So what should I do with them?’ He [Hitler] asked,” according to Netanyahu. “He [Husseini] said, ‘Burn them.'”
In the Knesset in 2012, the prime minister asserted that Husseini “was one of the leading architects of the Final Solution,” and that “he, more than anybody else, convinced [Hitler] to execute the Final Solution, and not let the Jews leave [Europe]. Because, God forbid, they would come here. Rather that they would be annihilated, burned, there.”
Having spent many years working on the history of modern Germany and on the period of Nazism and the Holocaust, I was surprised to see these quotes and this interpretation. I’ve never seen these comments cited before in the vast literature on the subject. This interpretation of the events of November 1941 is not supported by the scholarship on Holocaust decision-making. The prime minister overreached in his effort to push back against efforts to diminish Husseini’s role as a collaborator and ideological soulmate with Nazi Germany.
As this newspaper has helpfully published the English translation of the German record of the meeting between Hitler and Husseini on November 28, 1941 in Berlin, I will place the conversation in historical context. Amidst the vast scholarship on Hitler’s decisions to implement a Final Solution of the Jewish question in Europe, the work of two historians stands out in particular. In his 1991 study, Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution, Richard Breitman drew on Himmler’s appointment calendar to make a compelling argument for an “early” decision, that is, one that was emerging in spring 1941 before the invasion of the Soviet Union and became more obvious with the Einsatzgruppen murders that began immediately after that invasion in June 1941.
Subsequently, Christopher Browning, in works that are summarized in The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942, addressed in more detail the evolution of Hitler’s thinking and decision-making. Browning’s now widely accepted conclusion is that in the midst of “euphoria” over the seeming victory over the Red Army in summer 1941, Hitler took a series of decisions to implement the Final Solution at the latest by October 1941. The historical reconstruction of the decision-making process is complex and well beyond the scope of a newspaper column. There is no substitute for reading Breitman and Browning along with the synthesis of the issue in Saul Friedlander’s second volume of Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1945: The Years of Extermination.
In my own The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust, a study of propaganda within Germany, I pointed out that by summer and early fall of 1941 Hitler’s fiction of an international Jewish conspiracy waging war against Germany, a fiction which Hitler had repeatedly mentioned since a speech in the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, seemed in his own eyes to be taking shape in the form of the alliance of Britain with the Soviet Union following his invasion of Russia in June 1941. The anti-Hitler coalition confirmed in his mind the truth of his conspiracy theory. As “international Jewry” appeared intent on waging a war of extermination against Germany, so he would “exterminate the Jewish race” in Europe in retaliation. He had been discussing these ideas since early 1939. They reached a fever pitch in summer and early fall of 1941 before he met with Husseini.
The now widely accepted international consensus among historians of the Holocaust is that Hitler had both made the decisions to implement the Final Solution and had communicated those decisions to key actors in the Nazi regime at the latest a month before his meeting with Husseini on November 28th. Husseini owed his life to Mussolini and Hitler, both of whom aided his escape from British forces chasing him after the British overthrew the pro-Nazi government he had helped to establish in early 1941. While he agreed with Hitler about fundamental ideological issues, he was in no position to have a major influence on decision-making about German policy toward the Jews in Europe.
I examined Husseini’s meeting with Hitler in my Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. As the text published by this paper yesterday indicates, Hitler told the Mufti that when the German armies drove south from the Caucuses, “Germany’s objective would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power. In that hour the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world. It would then be his task to set off the Arab operations, which he had secretly prepared.” Hitler had referred to “the total destruction of the Judeo-Communist empire in Europe,” a typically vague and sinister reference to his anti-Jewish policies in Europe. Yet he was very clear that he was eager to enlist Husseini in his plans to extend the final solution beyond Europe to encompass the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East. It is in this effort to extend the Final Solution beyond the shores of Europe, not its implementation within Europe, that Husseini came to play a prominent role.
Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World drew on German archives and on the files of the United States Department of State and US intelligence agencies to present the most extensive documentation available about the vast Arabic language propaganda radio broadcasts and printed leaflets that the Nazi regime sent to the Arab societies during World War II. Husseini played a central role in those broadcasts. He became world famous at the time for his incitement on the radio to “kill the Jews” in summer 1942 as Rommel’s Afrika Korps threatened to overwhelm the British and capture the Jews of pre-state Palestine. As the German historians Klaus Michael Mallmann and Martin Cuppers have documented in Nazi Palestine: Plans for the Extermination of the Jews of Palestine, had the Germans won the Battle of Al Alamein, an SS Einsatzgruppe was prepared to come to Egypt to carry out mass murders with techniques that had been perfected on the Eastern Front in Europe. The record of Husseini’s ranting and raving on Nazi radio was well documented by American diplomats at the Embassy in wartime Cairo. I used those thousands of pages of translations when I wrote Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. (That work is translated into French, Italian, Japanese and Spanish but for some strange reason German publishers in a country famous for “coming to terms with the Nazi past” have refused to translate the most extensive record of Husseini’s fulminations against the Jews.)
As the British historian David Motadel has recently shown in his important work Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, Husseini and other Muslim clerics did play an important role in German policy in Europe but it was not by exerting an important influence on Holocaust decision-making. Rather he helped to recruit Imams who preached to tens of thousands of Muslims who fought with Wehrmacht, especially on the Eastern Front against the Red Army. While some of these units took part in actions against Jews, this considerable collaboration did not have an influence on Hitler’s decision-making.
Though Netanyahu is thus wrong about Husseini’s role in the decisions that led to the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe, he is right to draw attention to Husseini’s disastrous impact on Palestinian politics and society. In response to the storm of criticism that greeted his remarks, Netanyahu replied:
My intention was not to absolve Hitler of his responsibility, but rather to show that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation, without a country and without the so-called ‘occupation’, without land and without settlements, even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews.”
Husseini absolutely wanted to exterminate the Jews, above all, the Jews of pre-state Palestine, and then the Jews of Israel. The evidence of Husseini’s pleas to kill the Jews, of his boundless hatred of Judaism as a religion and the Jews as a people is well documented in Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World.
Husseini embedded his Jew-hatred in his understanding of Islam as early as a 1937 speech in Syria that the Germans published in German the following year. In the midst of the terrorist attacks he led and incited from 1936 to 1939 in Palestine, it was Husseini who claimed that the Zionists wanted to seize or destroy the Al Aksa Mosque. This lie became a central element of Palestinian propaganda over the decades until recent weeks.
On November 5, 1943, Husseini spoke at the Islamic Institute in Berlin on “Balfour Day,” a day to denounce the Balfour Declaration. The speech was printed in German and broadcast on the radio. I examine it in Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. He vents his hatred of the Jews and the British for helping the Zionists. The Jews, he said, had tormented the world for ages, and have been the enemy of the Arabs and of Islam since its emergence. The Holy Koran expressed this old enmity in the following words: You will find that those who are most hostile to the believers are the Jews.’ They tried to poison the great and noble prophets. They resisted them, were hostile to them, and intrigued against them. This was the case for 1,300 years. For all that time, they have not stopped spinning intrigues against the Arabs and Muslims.
Husseini the Palestinian leader of the war of 1948 and hero to Yasser Arafat and his generation of leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, interpreted Zionism as only the most recent of this supposed age-old Jewish hostility not only to the Palestinians or Arabs as modern national groups but also to the religion of Islam. In the Islamic Institute speech he also referred to a supposed “Jewish desire” to seize the Islamic holy sites, a desire that extended to the Al Akas Mosque. Indeed, the Jews, he said, planned “to build a temple on its ruins.” Haj Amin al-Husseini’s very regrettable but consequential accomplishment was to fuse secular Arab anti-Zionism with the Islamist and thus theologically inspired hatred of the Jews and Judaism. The lies which Mahmoud Abbas and others have told in recent weeks about Israel’s supposed desire to somehow infringe on the rights of Muslims to pay at the Al Aksa Mosque have their origins in lies that are now at least 75 years old.
Netanyahu added the following:
Unfortunately, Haj Amin al-Husseini is still a revered figure in Palestinian society. He appears in textbooks and it is taught that he is one of the founding fathers of the nation, and this incitement that started then with him, inciting the murder of Jews continues. Not in the same format, but in a different one, and this is the root of the problem. To stop the murders, it is necessary to stop the incitement. What is important is to recognize the historical facts and not ignore them, not then and not today.”
Here the Prime Minister is on rock solid ground. Far from denouncing Husseini for spreading lies, absurd conspiracy theories and radical anti-Semitism, he has remained a revered figure in Palestinian political memory. The absurdities for which Husseini became famous in the 1940s have continued to play a far too prominent role in the Palestinian political culture ever since. He did incite others to murder Jews. He did spread ridiculous conspiracy theories comparable to those of the Nazis. He did all that he could to help the Nazis in a failing effort to spread the Holocaust to the Middle East and to win the war in Europe. He left behind a legacy of hatred, paranoia, religious fanaticism and celebration of terror so long as it was aimed at Jews and Israelis. The Palestinian authority and Hamas even more so has kept that legacy is alive and well and fills the heads of Palestinian teenagers with rubbish that has led to the terror wave of recent weeks.
The Prime Minister has erred in his understanding of the timing of Hitler’s decision-making but he is right about Husseini’s disastrous impact on Palestinian political culture. I hope that the discussion his comments have generated will draw more attention to the now abundant scholarship on Husseini’s role in collaborating with the Nazis in their failed efforts to murder the Jews of North African and the Middle East during World War II. We need more public discussion about the atrocious legacy he left behind that has been playing itself out, yet again, in the knife attacks on the streets of Israel’s cities. That legacy of a political culture that venerates violence and anti-Semitism is a huge barrier to successful diplomacy and resolution of the old conflict. The more decision-makers in Washington cast a harsh glare on the enduring impact of Husseini’s legacy, the more likely they will enhance the now dim chances for diplomatic success. If they can’t find the words to speak clearly about it, diplomacy will stand little chance of success.
Jeffrey Herf is a professor of History at the University of Maryland-College Park and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. His recent works include: Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (2009) and The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust (2006).