Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been mocked and condemned for claiming Hitler did not intend to kill Jews until he was convinced to do so by a Palestinian mufti (Islamic scholar).
Speaking to the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Netanyahu said a meeting between the Nazi leader and Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1941 was instrumental in the former’s decision to exterminate Europe’s Jews.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews and Haj Amin Husseini went up to him and said if you expel them, they’ll all come here (Palestine)…’So what shall I do with them?’ he (Hitler) asked, ‘burn them’ (Husseini responded),” Netanyahu told the audience.
The speech sparked ridicule online and condemnation by ordinary Israelis, Jews across the world and by academics.
David Schneider, a British Jewish comedian attacked the idea Hitler had needed any advice on how to deal with Europe’s Jews.
Sure, Netanyahu. Hitler always seemed like an easy-going, unsure kind of guy, keen to take advice on stuff like what to do with the Jews.
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) October 21, 2015
Claudia Prestel, a reader in Modern European and Jewish History at the University of Leicester, told Al Jazeera she had never come across the idea that Hitler’s decision to kill Jews was influenced by Husseini.
“The mufti came to Berlin when the expulsions and killings were well underway…it does not help that the mufti supported the Nazis- against the British,” Prestel said.
Numerous massacres of Jews during the Second World War, such as the Babi Yar and Jedwabne massacres, happened months before Hitler’s meeting with Husseini.
Gershon Baskin, the founder of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, told Al Jazeera the comments formed part of a strengthening narrative in Israel associating the Palestinian leadership with the Nazis.
“Yesterday in his press conference with Ban Ki-Moon, Netanyahu said that (Palestinian President) Abbas are like Hamas and Dae’sh (ISIL)…it’s all incitement, just absurd.
“Everyone is taking jabs at him, you just have to go into Facebook and Twitter and read the comments against Netnyahu in Hebrew…he’s the son of a historian, who doesn’t know history,” Baskin said.
Israeli journalist Harvey Stein told Al Jazeera that opposition leaders had condemned Netanyahu but his comments would not have significant repercussions among his supporters.
“Netanyahu’s comments have definitely not backfired… his government has pulled the population rightward, the ‘left’ is a very small voice now,” Stein said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he did not intend to absolve Hitler of responsibility for the “diabolical destruction” of Europe’s Jews.
“Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to exterminate six million Jews. He made the decision. It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti,” Netanyahu said.
Germany has reaffirmed its responsibility for the killing of Jews during the Second World War, in light of the Israeli leader’s comments.
At a press conference with Netanyahu on Wednesday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country abided by its “responsibility for the Holocaust”.
Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM