Realizing His Lies Didn't Work, Netanyahu Retracts Hitler/Mufti Statement

After more than a week of local and international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel issued a statement on Friday retracting his accusation that it was a Palestinian cleric who gave Hitler the idea of annihilating Europe’s Jews during World War II. In reality Netanyahu's announcement wasn't a clarification but a complete rejection of his previous statements which sparked public uproar.

Mr. Netanyahu, criticized even by Israeli historians for distorting facts, had already said he never intended to absolve Hitler of responsibility for the Holocaust by blaming the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, but the new statement went further.

“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,” Mr. Netanyahu posted on Facebook, in Hebrew and English. “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.”

He went on: “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.”

That description aligns with the prevailing view of Holocaust historians, but was contradicted by Mr. Netanyahu in a speech on Oct. 20 to the World Zionist Congress where he recounted the meeting between Hitler and Mr. Husseini. “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time — he wanted to expel the Jews,” Mr. Netanyahu said in his speech. He quoted the mufti as saying, “If you expel them, they’ll all come here,” referring to Palestine, and then said Hitler had asked, “So what should I do with them?” The mufti replied, “Burn them,” according to Mr. Netanyahu.

Historians declared his account to be a lie that appeases Holocaust denial, and many political analysts said Mr. Netanyahu’s speech undermined his own accusations that President Mahmoud Abbas of The Palestinian Authority was peddling falsehoods. It was also seen as a disturbing political attempt to link the Palestinians with the deaths of 6 million European Jews in a time of violence in Israel. Recent articles have also pointed to a link between Netanyahu's comments and to his father's his historical and political work. But the controversy had mostly died down, making the timing of Mr. Netanyahu’s Facebook post — on a Friday afternoon, a quiet time in the Israeli news media — curious.

Asked why the prime minister had issued the additional statement, a senior Israeli official would only say, “Set the record straight,” and only on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Netanyahu wrote in the Facebook post that his initial “remarks were intended to illustrate the murderous approach of the mufti to the Jews in his lengthy contacts with the Nazi leadership.” He said Mr. Husseini “propagated the big lie that the Jews intend to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque,” an idea that has been cited as a main motivator for this month’s spate of Palestinian attacks against Israeli Jews.

“This lie lives on and continues to exact a price in blood,” Mr. Netanyahu continued. Saying that Mr. Abbas in 2013 called Mr. Husseini “a Palestinian ‘pioneer,’ ” he added, “That the mufti remains an iconic figure among the Palestinian leadership today speaks volumes about that leadership’s real attitude towards Israel.”