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October 25, 2015 6:20 am

Bibi’s Bluster — and Blunder?

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem last week. Photo: Twitter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem last week. Photo: Twitter.

According to his legions of liberal critics, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffers, among other political ailments, from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease. Their current source of outrage is Netanyahu’s assertion that during a 1941 Berlin meeting, Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini persuaded Hitler to “burn” Jews. By then, al-Husseini (appointed Grand Mufti, ironically, by Herbert Samuel, a British Jew) had fled Palestine to evade an arrest warrant for inciting the five-year-old Arab revolt. He met in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and was officially received by Hitler the following week. Confirmed by official German records, that much is beyond dispute.

But Netanyahu went further. Hitler, he claimed in his address to the World Zionist Congress, only wanted to expel Jews from Germany. The Grand Mufti expressed his concern that Jews, if expelled, would come to Palestine. Hitler asked what should be done with them. According to Netanyahu, “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time; he wanted to expel the Jews. 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?’ [Hitler] asked. [Husseini] said, ‘Burn them.'”

To support his claim, Netanyahu cited a statement by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Dieter Wisliceny at the postwar Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals. Wisliceny, who served under Adolph Eichmann, testified that the Grand Mufti “played a role in the decision of the German government to exterminate the European Jews.”

Nearly 20 years ago, Mideast expert Bernard Lewis dismissed Wisliceny’s uncorroborated statement. Following Netanyahu’s reference to burning Jews, Israeli Holocaust expert Yehuda Bauer rejected his allegation in the absence of any “independent documentary confirmation of Wisliceny’s statements.” The Nazis, he pointed out, “had started annihilating the Jews half a year before Hitler and the Mufti met.”

The official German record of the meeting between Hitler and the Grand Mufti on November 28, 1941 (reprinted in The Times of Israel [October 21, 2015]) is revealing. The Mufti began by asserting, “The Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies as had Germany, namely the English, the Jews and the Communists.” Therefore, he continued, “they were ready to cooperate with Germany with all their hearts… because of the suffering inflicted upon them by the English and the Jews.” Arabs had “the fullest confidence in the Fuhrer and looked to his hand for the balm on their wounds.”

Hitler responded with the assurance that “Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews.” He promised that “at some moment which was impossible to set exactly today… Germany’s objective would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power.” The Mufti expressed his gratitude for Hitler’s pledge of support.

Perhaps Netanyahu, whose father, Benzion, was a distinguished (and maverick) historian of Spanish Jewry, inherited a family trait for “fomenting incendiary controversy” (as Raphael Ahren wrote in The Times of Israel after the brouhaha erupted). If his allegation about the Mufti’s words stretched the truth regarding the palpable loathing of Jews he shared with Hitler , the nerve it touched among his liberal critics was revealing.

Leading the pack, predictably, was The New York Times. An editorial (October 22) lacerated Netanyahu for his “outrageous” misstatement, claiming that “the Holocaust is far too terrible a crime to be exploited for political ends, especially in the state linked so closely to the tragedy of the Jewish people.” To that display of moral arrogance, one can only respond: Tu quoque (“You, too.”) In Buried by The Times, Professor Laurel Leff has thoroughly exposed the dismal failure of “America’s Most Important Newspaper” to report the Nazi annihilation of European Jewry, largely confining its constricted coverage to inside pages featuring stories about New Jersey.

The Times editorial expressed outrage that Netanyahu would “demonize the Palestinians” by implying that their “resistance” (i.e. attacking and murdering Jews) is based “on a longstanding hatred of the Jews, and not on their occupation by Israel.” But Palestinian Arab hatred toward Jews was amply and violently displayed decades before Israel, no less “occupied” Palestine, even existed. It faulted him for suggesting “that the current wave of violence has been incited by Palestinian leaders” – while conceding two sentences later that President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah cronies have made comments that “seemed to fan the violence and even celebrate the killers.” Only “seemed”?

The Holocaust, the editorial concluded, “is not a history to be tampered with.” The Times should know. Should Netanyahu “have the decency to acknowledge that he was wrong,” what is to be demanded of The New York Times, which tampered with the history of the Holocaust while six million Jews  experienced its horrific cruelty.

Jerold S. Auerbach is writing a history of The New York Times, Zionism and Israel.

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