Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to the 37th Zionist Congress last Tuesday has come under heavy criticism, according to a recent CNN report. The speech was centered around what Netanyahu saw as the real battle in the Middle East – a battle between truths and lies. The prime minister then proceeded to debunk “ten big lies” that he thought were harming the state of Israel. In the process, however, Netanyahu launched a myth of his own – that an early Palestinian leader was responsible for giving Adolf Hitler the idea for the Holocaust.
The subject of the discussion and the backlash toward Netanyahu was the grand mufti, or Islamic scholar, of Jerusalem in the 1940s, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist and declared war criminal, met with Hitler in 1941 and expressed his support for the leader of the Nazi Party, said a BBC report. Netanyahu’s claim, however, is that Hitler only wanted to remove Jews from Europe, while Husseini feared they would come to Palestine. According to the report, Netanyahu’s speech indicates that Hitler asked Husseini what he should do with the Jews, and Husseini was the one who said, “burn them.”
These comments were met with outrage from historians and media members, Palestinians and Israelis alike, since much of Netanyahu’s account has proven to be nonfactual. In fact, the only transcript of the meeting between Hitler and Husseini is a paraphrased account written by a German that has been published by The Times of Israel. While the account does prove Husseini’s support for Hitler, nowhere does it indicate that Husseini put the idea of the Final Solution in Hitler’s mind. On the other hand, according to Zehava Galon, a member of the Israeli Meretz Party, there is proof that the Holocaust had begun before Hitler and Husseini’s meeting. In an interview with the Washington Post, Galon reminded readers of the 33,771 Jews who were murdered in Babi Yar, Ukraine, in September 1941, whereas the meeting took place in November.
Netanyahu’s tactics, according to Al Jazeera writer Natasha Lennard, are not uncommon. She says his rhetoric employs the principle of “reductio ad Hitlerum,” which associates an enemy with Hitler to gain emotional support for the speaker. The problem is that Netanyahu is using this tactic to deepen the rift between Palestinians and Israelis at a volatile point in the history of the two nations, especially after a series of stabbings, shootings and riots in the area. As a result, the prime minister is diminishing the political nature of the conflict and increasing its religious emphasis, which will only lead to more attacks in the name of misinterpreted Islam and more suppression of Muslims for the preservation of the Jewish state.
The speech also marks a dramatic milestone in Israeli thought, if the prime minister of Israel is desperate enough to make a statement that almost trivializes Hitler’s role in the Holocaust. As the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Secretary General Saeb Erekat told BBC, “It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbor so much that he is willing to absolve… Adolf Hitler.” While Netanyahu denied that he was absolving Hitler, his speech does suggest that because of one Palestinian’s ties with the leader of the Nazi Party, the entirety of Palestine is responsible for a crime at least equal to his. Of course, Netanyahu completely ignores the fact that many Palestinian Muslims supported the Allies during World War II, said Erekat.
Even after German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded that the responsibility for the Holocaust belonged to Nazi Germany, Netanyahu still did not apologize for his comments, said a BBC report. Instead, he seems to have welcomed the limited support he has gained from his speech, and therein lies the problem. Even if Western countries and the media turn against Netanyahu, it only takes a small portion of Israelis who believe him to keep Islamophobia alive in the Middle East.
While both sides of the conflict between Israel and Palestine are responsible for violent atrocities, leaders of the two parties cannot resort to breeding false hatred toward their enemies. Netanyahu’s speech will only rekindle the nationalist fervor that was present after World War II and throughout the twentieth century, turning Israelis against their Palestinian neighbors, and Palestinians against their Israeli neighbors. It is the responsibility of leaders on both sides to uphold truth – real, factual truth – because as long as history is adapted and myths are created to encourage hatred, the war can only escalate. The stabbings, the murders and the riots will increase and the vicious cycle will continue.
Alex Oliveira is a contributor to the Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.