Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuPM walks back claim that Muslim leader first proposed that Hitler should ‘burn’ the Jews; slams fact that al-Husseini remains iconic figure for Palestinians

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday sought to walk back his controversial claim made earlier this month that the idea to eradicate Europe’s Jews had not come from Adolf Hitler, but rather Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist widely acknowledged as a fervent Jew-hater.

During an October 20 address to delegates at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Netanyahu posited that the Nazi leader did not initially intend to annihilate the Jews of Europe, but rather sought to expel them from the continent. According to the prime minister’s version of the events, Hitler changed his mind after meeting with Husseini — who was grand mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948, and president of the Supreme Muslim Council from 1922 to 1937 — in Berlin near the end of 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time [of the meeting between the mufti and the Nazi leader]. He wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu said in his speech. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here [to mandatory Palestine],’” continued the prime minister.

“‘So what should I do with them?’ He [Hitler] asked,” according to Netanyahu. “He [Husseini] said, ‘Burn them.’”

But in a lengthy Facebook post on Friday, Netanyahu said he wished to “clarify [his] remarks about the connection between the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Nazis.” He said that he “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 prime minister wrote that, “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.”

Hitler met with Husseini at the Reich Chancellory in Berlin on November 28, 1941.

Netanyahu’s claim was met with a barrage of condemnations, with critics accusing him of “absolving” Hitler of responsibility for the Holocaust. The prime minister rejected this charge at the time, saying he had “no intention to absolve Hitler of responsibility for his diabolical destruction of European Jewry” but that it was “equally absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti” in urging Nazi leaders “to exterminate European Jewry.”

The prime minister on Friday again dismissed accusations that he had sought to exonerate the Nazis in any way for killing six million European Jews.

“The interpretation of my remarks as though I absolved the Nazis of even one ounce of responsibility for the Holocaust is absurd,” he wrote in his Facebook post.

Netanyahu did, however, link the mufti to modern day Palestinian rhetoric that Israel is seeking to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims where Jews are allowed to visit but not pray, and which is seen as a key factor in the current round of deadly violence.

“It was important for me to point out that even before World War II it was the mufti who propagated the big lie that the Jews intend to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This lie lives on and continues to exact a price in blood,” Netanyahu wrote, referring to the mosque that sits atop the mount.

He concluded the post by calling the mufti “a war criminal who collaborated with the Nazis and who opposed the creation of a Jewish state in any boundaries.” Furthermore, he said, “In 2013 [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas praised him as a Palestinian ‘pioneer.’ That the mufti remains an iconic figure among the Palestinian leadership today speaks volumes about that leadership’s real attitude towards Israel.”