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Why Netanyahu's Holocaust Theory Sounds So Ugly In Germany

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sparked outrage with his thesis that a Palestinian gave Adolf Hitler the idea to annihilate the Jews. It is, of course, utter nonsense. But from a German perspective, there is another problem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in May
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in May
Alan Posener

BERLIN — It is the most narcissistic insult possible to receive for Germany, a country so stained by its history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated this week that it was not Adolf Hitler and his willing aides who had conceived of the plans for the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question," but rather some Arab. But not just any old Arab: The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini himself was supposed to have offered the idea for the mass slaughter of the Jews.

We, in Germany, have become accustomed to the fact that Chinese and Russian historians have divested the Führer of the rank of biggest mass murderer of all time by suggesting Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin (in that order) for the top place instead. But the Holocaust was a singular event because of its factory-like efficiency, suggested former President of the Republic of Germany, Richard von Weizsäcker. "Advancement through technology ..."

Now, of all people, a Jew has come along to divest the Aryans of their copyright, if you like, and pass it on to another Semite. "Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews, he wanted to banish them," according to Netanyahu, speaking at the World Zionist congress in Jerusalem. But in November 1941, the Grand Mufti came to Berlin. "If you banish the Jews," al-Husseini is supposed to have told Hitler, "they will all come to Palestine." But what was he supposed to do with them, asked a helpless Hitler, to which the Grand Mufti reportedly replied: "Burn them all!"

Thankfully, this conversation is nothing but a figment of someone's imagination. German troops had already started to systematically exterminate Jews in Poland and the Ukraine as early as August 1941. It is true nevertheless that not only was the Grand Mufti eager to hear of the idea of the extermination of the Jews, but was delighted by the arrival of Erwin Rommel's troops in Palestine, where the local Arabs — Muslims, Christians, Socialists and Nationalists — were ready to lend a hand in the German's dirty work.

As a German you are still highly regarded to this day in some Arab countries due to the Holocaust, which can further the diplomacy of "traditionally good" relationships. But when it comes to anti-Semitism, and even terrorism, Arabs have proven themselves to be copycats rather than innovators.

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Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler in 1941 — Photo: German Federal Archives

Anti-Semitism has taken and still takes many forms. The Poles wanted to get rid of their Jews in the 1930s and, preferably, ship them to Palestine — which is why they were pro-Zionist and even secretly trained Zionist fighters. But the Arabs wanted to get rid of their Jews, too, and organised pogroms. The British on the other hand thought that the Zionists did not have any oil, as opposed to the Arabs, and gave into anti-Semitism, despite the fact that they had promised Palestine to the Jews. The Americans wanted to take as few Jewish refugees as possible, as did the French. All of these people pursued constricted, nationalistic interest, which, at times, were contradicting one another but which led to the Jews being handed over to the German butchers.

Because Hitler's anti-Semitism was actually not limited by the borders of his own home nations, it was global and "ecological," according to Timothy Snyder's new book Black Earth.

In his book Mein Kampf, written shortly after World War I, Hitler already proclaimed the Jews to be a "pestilence," a "bacillus," worse than the Black Death, they were the embodiment of "abnormality" that infects other nations and "killed the future." The world would only be safe if they were banished form the face of the Earth. It is the holy mission of the Aryan race to do just that: "By fighting the Jews, I fulfill the work of the Lord." Not a single Muslim had such radical thoughts back then.

But what about Hitler's plans of "emigration?" Hitler indeed thought up to the end of 1941 that the Jewish Question could be solved by simply banishing the Jews — to Siberia to be precise, where the Jews were to die of malnutrition and cold. The infamous Wansee conference still assumed that the Jews were to be transported further and further East by having them build roads in that direction. But the survivors of that trek were to receive "special treatment," namely that they were to be murdered.

But what convinced Hitler to give up on this plan was the ever more apparent defeat in the East, after the failure of taking Moscow, rather than any supposed suggestions uttered by the Grand Mufti. He wanted to at least win the more important war before Germany fell, the war against the Jews, if he could not win against the Allies.

Netanyahu's interpretation of history is shaped by the opportunism that defines his every action. Through exculpation of the German nation, and by accusing a Muslim, he hoped to win friends among Europe's Islamophobes. Even if you understand his motivation, his action is so utterly wrong. Every racist is, in the end, also an anti-Semite. To love Israel because it is attacked by Muslims would be the worst reason to do so. Netanyahu's narcissistic insult is made worse because he thinks we are stupid enough to fall for his trap.

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