Bibi Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, seems to have a problem in understanding the Holocaust.
Netanyahu claimed that the Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, gave Hitler the idea for the Holocaust.
According to Bibi, Hitler had initially simply wanted to expel the Jews. The Grand Mufti, however, was afraid that the exiled Jews of Europe would come to the land of Israel. And so, the Mufti convinced Hitler, as Netanyahu tells it, to "burn them."
I do not count myself among those who love to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu. I do not gleefully look for every gaffe he makes.
But here, we could all use a little history lesson.
There is no question that Haj Amin al-Husseini was one of the most despicable characters in modern history. His presence is invoked in the iconic movie Exodus; he and his Nazi henchmen killed the Arab mukhtar friend of Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman). Readers might want to read the excellent, though flawed, biography of him -- Icon of Evil: Hitler's Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam.
The Grand Mufti was the religious and political leader of the Palestinians in the decades before World War Two (and he was related to Yassir Arafat). Al-Husseini ordered attacks against the Jews in Palestine during the Arab Revolt in 1936-1939. He had a strong sympathy for the Nazis, and had trained a group of Bosnian Muslims for the SS. Had Rommel won the campaign in North Africa and gone on to attack Palestine, those Bosnian Muslims were prepared to kill the Jews of the Zionist settlements.
Read Nazi Propaganda For The Arab World by Jeffrey Herff. "From fall 1939 to March 1945, the Nazi regime broadcast shortwave Arabic programs to the Middle East and North Africa seven days and nights a week." The Grand Mufti is at the very center of the Arab-Nazi connection.
Herff shows that there was a deep affinity between the radical Islam of that period and Nazi ideology.
"There were shared political interests and ideological passions as well as a cultural fusion, borrowing, and interaction between Nazi ideology and certain strains of Arab nationalism and Islamic religious traditions. Radical anti-Semitism of European and German-speaking provenance found common ground with radical anti-Semitism, rooted in Koranic verses and the commentaries on them.
"Just as Nazi anti-Semitism was inseparable from a radicalization of already existing elements ements within European culture, so the anti-Semitism of the pro-Nazi Arab exiles was inseparable from a radicalization of already existing elements within the traditions of Islam."
All this is true, and all this is bad enough.
So, why would Bibi embellish this perverse history with his own perversion of history, claiming that al-Husseni was, in fact, responsible for the Holocaust?
Bibi Netanyahu's distortion of history was, first and foremost, unnecessary.
Can you trace the knife in the Palestinian hand back to the Grand Mufti? Perhaps, and historians can write essays about that.
But the Grand Mufti, as evil as he was, is irrelevant to the current conversation, and nothing is more useless in trying to figure out the present situation than bringing in arcane factoids from the past.
Did al-Husseini, in some way, influence current Palestinian policies and actions? There is certainly a discernible pattern here. If anything, the Grand Mufti's example shows that the Palestinian record of abysmal, homicidal, and suicidal leadership dates back almost a century. They, and the world, are still paying the price for that.
Second, Bibi's statements were embarrassing. They took place at the World Zionist Congress, the largest public gathering of Jews in the world. Nothing like bad timing.
If the current Prime Minister of Israel flubs such an essential part of Jewish communal memory, it is a woeful busha (embarrassment) of the first order. Especially since his late father, Benzion, was a world-class Jewish historian.
And third, Bibi's blunder was reckless.
The history of the Holocaust has long been subject to distortion. That distortion has taken various forms, including:
- Denial: "it didn't happen."
- Minimalization: "OK, it happened, but not to the extent that everyone says."
- Comparative horror: "OK, it happened, but Israel and the United States have behaved just as badly."
- Relativism: "OK, it happened, but there were other victims -- Poles, gays, labor leaders -- who also died in the camps."
Bibi's distortion of the history of the Holocaust gives carte blanche to everyone else who would do the same.
And more than this -- much more than this.
We are experiencing a firestorm of denial and distortion regarding the Jewish presence in the holiest of Jewish places. The Palestinians had submitted a resolution to UNESCO, alleging that the Western Wall is part of the Al Aqsa Mosque; they recently dropped the idea.
Instead, they are now going after Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, saying that they are Muslim holy sites.
Prime Minister Netanyahu should be saying: We are the Jews. We invented history. We invented memory. We get our facts right.
Let's get our facts right.
We owe it to the world.
And we owe it to ourselves.