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Netanyahu's controversial comments about the Holocaust
02:57 - Source: CNN

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NEW: "In no way did I intend to absolve Hitler of his responsibility for the Holocaust," Benjamin Netanyahu says

Netanyahu says he never meant to claim an Islamic leader persuaded Hitler to adopt Final Solution

Netanyahu's earlier remarks spurred criticism in both Israel and Palestinian territories

CNN  — 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reversed controversial comments he made about the Holocaust, saying he never meant to claim that an Islamic leader persuaded Adolf Hitler to adopt the Final Solution to kill European Jews.

In a Facebook post Friday, Netanyahu made the latest in a serious of clarifications to remarks he had made in which he gave an account of a meeting between Hitler and Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

“Contrary to the impression that was created, I did not mean to claim that in his conversation with Hitler in November 1941 the Mufti convinced him to adopt the Final Solution. The Nazis decided on that by themselves,” the post on Netanyahu’s Facebook page reads.

At issue are remarks that Netanyahu made in a speech earlier this month suggesting that the Holocaust wasn’t Hitler’s idea.

Rather, Netanyahu pointed to Husseini, who met with the Nazi leader in Germany in 1941.

Husseini was then and remains a revered figure in Palestinian circles.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said October 20 at the 37th Zionist Congress, according to a transcript on his website. “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.’”

Netanyahu’s remarks about the late grand mufti spurred criticism in Israel and the Palestinian territories, with some claiming that Netanyahu had effectively absolved Hitler of the Holocaust’s most gruesome, deplorable aspect and instead blamed Husseini for the systematic killing of more than 6 million Jews using gas chambers and firing squads.

Netanyahu’s reversal

In the Facebook post Friday, Netanyahu said Nazi Germany regarded Husseini as “a collaborator,” but it was Hitler and the Nazis who were “responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews.”

“In no way did I intend to absolve Hitler of his responsibility for the Holocaust,” Netanyahu said. “The decision to move from a policy of deporting Jews to the Final Solution was made by the Nazis and was not dependent on outside influence. The Nazis saw in the Mufti a collaborator, but they did not need him to decide on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, which began in June 1941.”

Netanyahu said Husseini supported “the Nazi goal of destroying the Jews.”

“He conducted his activities from Berlin during the war, disseminated virulent anti-Semitic propaganda on behalf the Nazis, recruited Muslims to the SS, demanded that after conquering the Middle East the Nazis destroy the Jewish national home and vigorously opposed the emigration of Jews – even children – from the Nazi inferno, knowing full well that this would seal their fate,” Netanyahu said.

“My remarks were intended to illustrate the murderous approach of the Mufti to the Jews in his lengthy contacts with the Nazi leadership. Contrary to the impression that was created, I did not mean to claim that in his conversation with Hitler in November 1941 the Mufti convinced him to adopt the Final Solution. The Nazis decided on that by themselves.

“The interpretation of my remarks as though I absolved the Nazis of even one ounce of responsibility for the Holocaust is absurd,” Netanyahu said.

Criticism of Netanyahu’s initial remarks

At the time, Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erakat strongly rejected Netanyahu’s initial remarks. He pointed to Palestinians who fought with the Allies during World War II and said, “Palestinian efforts against the Nazi regime are a deep-rooted part of our history.”

Even worse, according to Erakat, Netanyahu’s earlier comments came at a time of increased violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“(Netanyahu’s) regrettable statements have deepened the divide during a time when a just and lasting peace is needed most,” Erakat said. “(They are) further fueling the political issue into a religious one, and underscoring his commitment to the continued occupation and violence against Palestinians.

Also in Israel, Isaac Herzog, the head of the opposition Zionist Union party, said Netanyahu, through his earlier comments, “has forgotten that he is not only the Israeli Prime Minister but also the Prime Minister of the Jewish people.”

“This is a dangerous distortion of history and I demand that Netanyahu fix it immediately, because it trivializes the Holocaust, trivializes the Nazis and the share of the terrible dictator Adolf Hitler’s terrible tragedy of our people during the Holocaust,” Herzog wrote on his Facebook page then. “It falls like a ripe fruit straight into the hands of Holocaust deniers and puts them in conflict with the Palestinians.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel also took exception with Netanyahu’s earlier remarks.

“We don’t see any reason to change our view of history, particularly on this issue,” Merkel said. “We abide by our responsibility, in Germany, for the Holocaust.”

Historical accounts

Hitler’s anti-Semitism began long before he and Husseini met in the early 1940s.

One early indicator is a 1919 letter to a German army captain.

“The final goal must be the removal of Jews,” Hitler wrote, according to the letter found in the Nazi Archives in Nuremberg and now at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “To accomplish these goals, only a government of national power is capable.”

Hitler would eventually head such a government, overseeing policies that – through legislation, deportation into ghettos, killing squads and ultimately death camps – targeted Jews.

That repression began well before any meeting with the grand mufti.

As Erakat noted, it’s a fact that many Muslims sided with the Allies and fought against Hitler. But Hitler did have at least one notable Muslim ally, according to a U.S. National Archives publication citing U.S. documents and officials: Husseini.

That same U.S. report noted that Husseini had led anti-Jewish revolts in what was then Palestine and run by the British in 1929 and 1936.

In a 1952 interview with Life magazine, the grand mufti said he ended up in Germany during World War II because first the English, then the French attempted to capture him and he unsuccessfully sought refuge in Iraq, then Iran, then Turkey.

“I had to go to Europe. Where in Europe could I go? England? France?” Husseini said. “The only place was Germany.”

Once there, according to the National Archives report, Husseini appeared on pro-Nazi propaganda broadcasts aimed at the Arab world, helped recruit Muslims in Croatia to fight for the Axis, and was bankrolled by the German state. He also had interactions with SS leader Heinrich Himmler and key Nazi figure Adolf Eichmann, according to testimony at the latter’s 1961 trial in Israel.

The grand mufti ended up bouncing around from Switzerland to France to Syria to Egypt before eventually settling in Lebanon. “The Allies knew enough about Husseini’s wartime activities to consider him a war criminal,” the U.S. report says, citing declassified CIA and Army files. Yet he never was charged with war crimes.

In his Life interview, Husseini challenged claims that he was ever a Hitlerite. In fact, he insisted that he and fellow Muslims “don’t mean to eliminate the Jews. Not at all.”

“No, the elimination of the Jews is not in our program,” said Husseini. “We have no idea of wiping them out. The Jews lived among us for 13 centuries as a minority, and we protected them.”