Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been condemned for saying that a Palestinian was responsible for persuading Hitler to carry out the Holocaust.
Netanyahu’s inflammatory remarks suggested that Adolf Hitler only wanted the Jews out of Europe, but that Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini told him: “Burn them.”
BBC News reports:
However, the chief historian at Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust said this account was factually incorrect.
And Germany insisted it bore “inherent responsibility” for the crime.
A senior Palestinian official meanwhile said it showed Mr Netanyahu hated Palestinians so much he was willing to absolve Hitler.
Tensions have been worsened since early October by a spate of stabbing and shooting attacks – several of them fatal – on Israelis by Palestinians, and one apparent revenge stabbing by an Israeli.
Israeli security forces have also clashed with rioting Palestinians, leading to deaths on the Palestinian side. The violence has also spread to the border with Gaza.
Husseini, who died in 1974, was a Palestinian nationalist leader who led violent campaigns against Jews and the British authorities in what was then British Mandate Palestine in the 1920s and 1930s.
He fled the territory in 1937, but continued his campaign to oppose British plans to partition it into a Jewish state and an Arab one, allying himself with the Nazis during World War Two.
Husseini met Hitler in Berlin in November 1941, when he tried to persuade the Nazi leader to declare his support for the creation of an Arab state, according to German press reports at the time.
But in a speech at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu gave a different account.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time – he wanted to expel the Jews,” the Israeli prime minister said.
“And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said: ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’
“‘So what should I do with them?’ he [Hitler] asked. He [Husseini] said: ‘Burn them.'”
However, the chief historian of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Professor Dina Porat, said Mr Netanyahu’s statement was factually incorrect.
“You cannot say that it was the mufti who gave Hitler the idea to kill or burn Jews,” she told the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. “It’s not true. Their meeting occurred after a series of events that point to this.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the prime minister’s remarks played into the hands of Holocaust deniers.
“This is a dangerous historical distortion and I demand Netanyahu correct it immediately as it minimises the Holocaust, Nazism and… Hitler’s part in our people’s terrible disaster,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement: “It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews.”
Germany has also responded, insisting it had “inherent responsibility” for the Holocaust.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “We Germans recognise that the murderous racial fanaticism of the Nazis was the historical origin of… the Shoah.”
Mr Netanyahu later responded by saying: “I had absolutely no intention of absolving Hitler of his diabolical responsibility for the extermination of Europe’s Jews.”
But, he added, it was “absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti”.
“He has repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he has been in contact – above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler – the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution for the Palestine problem.'”
Husseini was sought for war crimes but never appeared at Nuremberg.