Thursday, October 22, 2015

More on Netanyahu's Holocaust pseudohistory

It's both a blessing and a curse when a major historical topic comes up in the news as a political polemic. Netanyahu's Holocaust revisionism this week in the form of anti-Arab propaganda is of course one of those.

The good side is that it makes good references on the historical work on the topic more immediately accessible, even if it's second or third hand, to a larger audience. The bad part is that when history meets lazy journalism, it can come out reported as "historian say ...", when the better way to report it would be: this is factually wrong.

Some say the Moon is made of green cheese. Others say it's composed of solid matter not involving processed foods. Opinions differ. Let's discuss the controversy.

Doesn't really work for me.

The Young Turks, Netanyahu's Holocaust Conspiracy Theory DEBUNKED 10/21/2015:

This Ofer Aderet story from Haaretz, What Really Happened When the Mufti Met Hitler 10/22/2015, explains what documentation is available on the meeting between Adolf Hitler and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini on November 28, 1941, the meeting Neyanyahu referenced in his Holocaust revisionist statement on October 20 this week in his Speech at the 37th Zionist Congress. (The comment his week that sparked the current controversy wasn't the first time he had publicly made the claim.) The relevant portion of Netanyahu's speech is:

And this attack and other attacks on the Jewish community in 1920, 1921, 1929, were instigated by a call of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was later sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials because he had a central role in fomenting the final solution. He flew to Berlin. Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, "If you expel them, they'll all come here." "So what should I do with them?" he asked. He said, "Burn them." And he was sought in, during the Nuremberg trials for prosecution. He escaped it and later died of cancer, after the war, died of cancer in Cairo. But this is what Haj Amin al-Husseini said.
The headline on Aderet's story is itself somewhat misleading, because what he explains is:

The meeting between Adolf Hitler and the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, took place in Berlin on November 28, 1941, from 4:30-5:45 P.M. The meeting was not transcribed, but the main points were detailed by Fritz Grobba, a Nazi diplomat and Middle East expert who had previously served in the German consulate in Jerusalem and as German ambassador to Iraq. Those points are outlined below.
Zack Beauchamp also looks at this particular corner of Holocaust revisionism, Benjamin Netanyahu blames the Holocaust on a Palestinian mufti. That's ludicrous. Vox 10/21/2015.

Aderet's description of Grobba's account of the meeting does not include the exchange that Netanyahu cited.

A popular version of the claim that the Arabs were responsible for the Holocaust has reportedly been circulating in Israel for decades. So to some extent the idea has become part of people's ideology, which is often very unyielding confronted with, you know, facts.

Which brings us back to the problem of history-as-political-symbol and history as an accurate description of the past. Here, it's important to keep in mind the scientific notion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The idea that it was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem that talking Hitler into the attempted extermination of the Jews in Europe is a very extraordinary claim.

But propaganda doesn't work like history or science in that respect. You can picture Rush Limbaugh or some other talk radio or FOX News blowhard demanding negative proof against Netanyahu's extraordinary claim: "The Prime Minister of Israel wouldn't say that unless he had reason to know it's true! Can you prove it didn't happen the way he said it did? Can you, huh, huh, huh?"

Which is can be frustrating to try to have a good faith conversation with someone who isn't acting in good faith. Anyone who digs into the swamp of Holocaust denial will quickly encounter instances of this. So will anyone who engages with neo-Confederate arguments about the American Civil War.

Because people who actually are trying to be careful are going to pay attention to qualifications that liars won't. I mentioned lazy journalists above. But even the most conscientious journalist is going to make qualifications about secondary sources. If they are interviewing historians, they have to say that they are reporting an interview. Even in the case of Ofer Aderet, who is apparently reporting on his own original research into the source document, he has to describe the nature of the source. And people acting in bad faith will jump on the fact that he's not stating flatly and absolutely that it just didn't happen the way Netanyahu said.

But in the end, you can't really placate people who don't care about honesty or reality, or who have no sense of responsibility or integrity in such things. For anyone who cares about such things, lack of evidence means essentially the same as "it didn't happen." But no professional historian or journalist will state something quite so unequivocally, nor should they.

Robert Fisk in Dumping blame for the Holocaust on a Palestinian is an insult to its six million victims The Independent 10/22/2015 refers to a recent book making the case for the Grand Mufti as the inspiration for the Holocaust:

Its two authors, the late Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, claim this Palestinian Jew-hater (let us not avoid the truth here) was actually responsible for the mass killing of the Jews of the Holocaust, that without him – without this single, one Arab Muslim who was largely treated by the Nazis themselves with the scorn he deserved – the greatest crime against humanity in modern generations would not have taken place. You get the point, of course. Haj Amin was a Palestinian. He brought about the mass murder of the Jews. Therefore the Palestinians were responsible for the Holocaust. Ergo ...

Well, you can imagine. How can the Palestinians be trusted with a state when they and their fellow Arabs “demonstrated how the same radical views that had once found the Nazis to be congenial, right-thinking allies, had such a powerful, long-lived effect in shaping the contemporary Middle East”. This, the authors assert, “is the terrible secret of modern Middle Eastern history”. At which, you have to cry: ‘Whoah there!’
The book to which he refers appears to be (now I'm doing it!) Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2014).

Fisk also addresses the value of the Fritz Grobba source on the November 1941 Hitler/Grand Mufti meeting:

After some extraordinary research – and a lot of new archive material – [Rubin and Schwanitz] formulate the theory that Haj Amin was the architect of the Holocaust and that he had so much power over Hitler and his cronies that he was, in effect, the perpetrator of the mass murder of the Jews of Europe. Much of the material to support this comes from Fritz Grobba (former German envoy to Kabul, Baghdad and Riyadh, and Muslim-Arab affairs officer in the Nazi foreign ministry) – “highly dubious evidence”, in the words of Gilbert Achcar, whose own research fills a volume of tremendous historical importance (The Arabs and the Holocaust) – and from the observation that Haj Amin and his colleagues were the only Nazi allies (apart from fascist movements) who gave their support to the “genocide plan”. [my emphasis]
Fisk notes that the book cites circumstantial evidence that the Grand Mufti may have visited the Auschwitz death camp, possibly even Treblinka and Majdanek, as well. And he cautions:

A highly incriminating story, if true – but “possible” is hardly the stuff of history. The authors record some fatuous conversations between the Palestinian and Nazi officers, the former favourably comparing Islam to Nazism and the latter exclaiming their admiration for the religion, even though both sides knew this was nonsense. Having established that these two views had little in common, Rubin and Schwanitz then make an astonishing leap of faith by recording Hitler’s suicide – then adding that “the Third Reich’s Arab and Islamist allies were just getting started in conducting what would become the longest war of all”. [my emphasis]
Surprisingly to me, though, Fisk's first paragraph includes a qualifier that isn't really supported by the rest of his argument:

... that devious, hypocritical – yes, and anti-Semitic – man, the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the prelate who visited Hitler and Himmler and supported their persecution of the Jews of Europe. Did he know that the Holocaust had started? Of course he knew. Did he make morally iniquitous broadcasts for the Nazis? Of course he did. Did he appeal to the Germans to send Jews “to the east”? Of course, he made just such a call which may – or may not – have sealed the fate of Jews in Europe. [my emphasis]
It's highly unlikely that anything the Grand Mufti said decisively or even tangentially influenced Hitler's decision to exterminate the Jews of Europe, given that Hitler would have regarded the Mufti as a stooge from an "inferior race" and give Hitler's own long-time obsession against Jews.

Raphael Ahren points to a different and apparently even less credible source for Netanyahu's claim (In Netanyahu’s mufti-Holocaust allegation, echoes of his father’s maverick approach to history Times of Israel 10/22/2015):

Defending his contentious remarks Wednesday as he made his way to Berlin, the prime minister said: “There is much evidence about this, including the testimony of [Adolf] Eichmann’s deputy at the Nuremberg trials — not now, but after World War II.”

Netanyahu then cited two statements attributed to SS-Hauptsturmführer Dieter Wisliceny, who served under Eichmann in the Jewish affairs department of the Reich Security Main Office and who from 1940 acted as adviser on Jewish affairs to the Slovakian government, participating in the deportation of Jews from Slovakia, Greece, and Hungary:

“In my opinion, the Grand Mufti, who has been in Berlin since 1941, played a role in the decision of the German government to exterminate the European Jews, the importance of which must not be disregarded. He has repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he has been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution for the Palestine problem.”
That quote comes from the 1946 Nuremberg trials. Netanyahu also cited a sentence that Wisliceny is believed to have uttered in Bratislava while the Holocaust was raging, in 1944:

“The Mufti was one of the instigators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and was a partner and adviser to Eichmann and Hitler for carrying out this plan.”
That source has not fared well among Holocaust historians:

Netanyahu is not the first to cite the Wisliceny quotes. They feature, for instance, in a 2012 book, “Israel: The Will to Prevail,” by the man Netanyahu recently appointed as his ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon. But Danon acknowledges the problematics of the claim: “Some historians have cast doubt on al-Husseini’s involvement in the ‘final solution,’” he writes, “since it was already under way after [sic] al-Husseini’s arrival on the scene.”

In fact, it is not some, but rather most serious historians who doubt the veracity of Wisliceny’s account.

Yehuda Bauer, Israel’s preeminent Holocaust scholar, is a prominent case in point. “After the war, they caught him (Wisliceny) and tried him at Nuremberg, where he tried to eschew all responsibility, saying: ‘It wasn’t Hitler, it wasn’t me, it was the mufti,'” Bauer told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “I am not sure if Wisliceny ever met the mufti. I doubt it, but it’s doesn’t matter. It’s clear that his account is untrue: the Germans had started annihilating the Jews half a year before Hitler and the mufti met. Netanyahu’s story is entirely baseless.” (Wisliceny was executed for war crimes in 1948.)

Bauer, a professor emeritus of history and Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University and an academic advisor to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, is far from alone among elite historians in rejecting Netanyahu’s reliance on Wisliceny’s testimony.

The “Wisliceny hearsay is not merely uncorroborated, but conflicts with everything else that is known about the origins of the Final Solution,” Rafael Medoff, the head of the Washington, DC-based David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, wrote in a 1996 article for the Journal of Israeli History.
Ahren makes an interesting comparison of Netanyahu's Holocaust revisionism and the work of his historian father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu, on Spanish Jews.

J.J. Goldberg of The Forward speaks to Netanyahu's bad historical claims and its current propaganda uses in Why Benjamin Netanyahu's Defense of Hitler Is So Wrong — and Matters So Much 10/22/2015:

By the end of November, when Hitler met Husseini for the first and only time, planning was well underway for the Wansee Conference, which assembled various German government department heads in January 1942 to coordinate the immense bureaucratic blueprint for genocide that Heydrich had mapped out. Heydrich actually sent out the invitations to the conference on November 29, the day after the mufti met the fuehrer.

Netanyahu’s version of history is so demonstrably and utterly at odds with the historical record that it’s hard to fathom what could have driven him to offer it in a heavily watched keynote address to an international convention. The prime minister famously prides himself on his grasp of history. He makes frequent and facile use of the Holocaust as an object lesson for humanity. Even his harshest critics must have difficulty absorbing the realization that he can be so ignorant of the most basic facts of that history. There’s no lack of observers who disagree, often sharply, with his policies. But this goes to his competence.

There’s another, perhaps larger question raised by Netanyahu’s speech. It goes to the rapidly escalating level of vitriol that the prime minister is directing at Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. One of the clearly evident goals of the Zionist Congress speech was to draw a straight line between the Final Solution and today’s Palestinian national movementand its leader. At a time when Abbas has been peppering nearly every major speech with an appeal for a two-state solution, for a Palestinian state alongside Israel within defined borders, trying to paint him as an heir to the Nazis perverts the truth. Nor does the prime minister stop there. Just hours after the Zionist Congress speech, during a joint press conference with United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, he said that Abbas had “joined” with Hamas and ISIS.
And Roy Isacowitz asks, "If Netanyahu can get the provenance of the Holocaust so appallingly wrong, what does it say about all the other historical 'truths' that underlie and buttress his maximalist Zionism – which, it goes without saying, is the governing creed in the country today? How many other crank theories are hidden in the dark crevices of the prime ministerial mind?" (In Mufti Speech, Netanyahu Showed His Obsessive Hatred of the Palestinians Haaretz 10/22/2015)

German Chancellor Angela "Mutti" Merkel, who met with Netanyahu yesterday, had her spokesperson issue a statement disclaiming Netanyahu's implied alibi for Hitler and the Germans (Germany in response to Netanyahu: We are responsible for Holocaust i24 News 10/22/2015):

Germany on Wednesday said that responsibility for the Holocaust lay with the Germans, after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked controversy before a visit to Berlin by saying a Muslim elder had convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate Jews.

"All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said when asked about Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks.

"This is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten. And I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own."

In The truth about Jerusalem’s grand mufti, Hitler and the Holocaust Jewish Journal 10/21/2015, Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman discuss the Grand Mufti's history, which is obnoxious enough without making stuff up:

According to Historian Robert Wistrich’s Hitler and the Holocaust (2001), the Mufti escaped British scrutiny in Jerusalem after the war’s outbreak for the more friendly confines of Berlin, where, in November, 1941, he had tea with Hitler who asked him “to lock in the innermost depths of his heart” that he (Hitler) “would carry on the battle to the total destruction of the Judeo-Communist Empire in Europe.” In 1942, Fred Grobba wrote approvingly of the Mufti’s visit with members of the Nazi elite to “the concentration camp Oranienburg . . . . The visit lasted about two hours with very satisfying results . . . . the Jews aroused particular interest among the Arabs. ... It [the visit] ... made a very favorable impression on the Arabs.”

In 1943, the Mufti extended his relations with the German Foreign Office and Abwehr directly to the SS Main Office. Gottlob Berger arranged a meeting between al-Husayni and SS chief Heinrich Himmler on July 3, 1943. Al-Husayni sent Himmler birthday greetings on October 6, and expressed the hope that “the coming year would make our cooperation even closer and bring us closer to our common goals.” The Grand Mufti also helped organize a Muslim Waffen SS Battalion, known as the Hanjars, that slaughtered ninety percent of Bosnia’s Jews, and were dispatched to Croatia and Hungary. The Mufti also made broadcasts to the Middle East urging Arabs and Muslims to honor Allah by implementing their own Final Solution.

After the War, Great Britain, the U.S., and Yugoslavia indicted the Mufti as a war criminal, but Yugoslavia dropped its extradition request to France, and legal proceedings were abandoned so as not to upset the Arab world. Escaping back to the Middle East, Al-Husseini continued his genocidal exhortations and rejectionist demands that the Jewish presence be erased from Palestine continued unabated before and during the 1948 War by five Arab states against Israel. Only then, did his influence gradually decline. He died in 1974, not long after Arab armies almost succeeded in destroying Israel in an attack launched on Judaism’s holiest day, Yom Kippur.
Haaretz also has a new piece on the Mufti's actual biography by Ben Sales, Who Was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem? 10/22/2015:

Husseini was an advocate for Arab nationalism, and in 1936 he joined with other Palestinian leaders in revolt against the British. The revolt lasted until 1939, claimed thousands of lives, including hundreds of Jews, and led the British to seek an exit from the territory. In 1937, the British removed Husseini from his position, prompting him to flee to Lebanon.

During World War II, Husseini supported an anti-British rebellion in Iraq and became the rebels’ envoy to Germany and Italy. When the rebellion was suppressed, he fled to Italy and continued his contacts with the Axis powers from there, famously meeting with Adolf Hitler in November 1941. He continued to support the Nazis in various ways throughout the war.

After the war, Husseini escaped to Beirut, his influence diminished. He died there in 1974.
Netanuyahu in his controversial statement quoted above, wrongly identified Egypt as the country where Al-Husseini died.

Sales is pretty explicit about how misleading Netanyahu's clims was:

Contrary to Netanyahu’s assertion, nowhere in the record is there a suggestion that Husseini told Hitler to exterminate Europe’s Jews. The record does report that Hitler announced his intentions, noting that he planned to “ask one European nation after the other to solve its Jewish problem.”

“To say Hitler was influenced by the mufti is far from the truth,” said Hebrew University professor Moshe Maoz. “He didn’t need the mufti to perform the extermination.” [my emphasis]
As I mentioned in yesterday's post on this, the chief historian at Yad Vashem, Dina Porat, also rejected Netanyahu's claim. Ofer Aderet reports in Yad Vashem’s Chief Historian on Hitler and the Mufti: Netanyahu Had It All Wrong Haaretz 10/22/2015:

Porat ... called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Hitler did not seek to exterminate the Jews until his meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini “completely erroneous, on all counts.”

Porat, a senior historian at Tel Aviv University who specializes in Holocaust studies, told Haaretz on Wednesday: “Hitler did not need anyone to encourage the final solution. In terms of the facts, there’s no debate ... all these actions, Hitler’s obsessions, have no link to the mufti.” ...

According to Porat, “all of the facts show that during Hitler and the mufti’s meeting, the ‘final solution’ was already under way.” [my emphasis]

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