Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Netanyahu's Holocaust revisionism

Between Bibi Netanyahu i Israel and Dr. Ben Carson in the US, it seems to be the season for prominent politicians to indulge in Holocaust pseudohistory.

Bibi's flirtation with Holocaust revisionism provoked quick response and refuation: Barak Ravid and Jonathan Lis, Opposition Blasts Netanyahu for 'Distorting' Holocaust History Haaretz 10/21/2015:

Israel's opposition head and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog strongly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for the premier's claims that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was the one who planted the idea of the extermination of European Jewry in Adolf Hitler's mind.

... Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli demanded Netanyahu apologize to Holocaust victims. "This is a great shame, a prime minister of the Jewish state at the service of Holocaust-deniers – this is a first," he said. "This isn't the first time Netanyahu distorts historical facts, but a lie of this magnitude is the first."

Meretz leader Zehava Galon also criticized Netanyahu's comments: "This is not a Jörg Haider speech. It's not a part of [Mahmoud] Abbas' doctorate. It's a real quote from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," she said. "Maybe the 33,771 Jews murdered in Babi Yar in September 1941 – two months before the Mufti and Hitler met - should be exhumed and updated that the Nazis didn't mean to destroy them." Those who can't change the future, she said, "are left with rewriting the past."

Al-Husseini definitely was pro-Nazi. But Netanyahu's claim is a typical piece of pseudohistory. For one thing, there is no actual evidence that the alleged conversation that he describes took place, though the meeting did, on November 27, 1941. Alan Posener says flatly that the exchange was "frei erfunden," simply made up. (Was, ein Araber hat sich den Holocaust ausgedacht? Die Welt 21.10.15)

Josh Marshall describes it somewhat more mildly as a "purported conversation "(Netanyahu Reduced to Defending Hitler. Really ... TPM 10/21/2015:

And he provides this historical background:

Sympathy for the Nazis was not at all uncommon among Arab nationalists during the 1930s and 1940s. One example that may surprise you is the now much-lauded Anwar Sadat. Arab nationalism was mainly focused on the British who either directly or indirectly controlled Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and other parts of the Arab world at the time. There was a natural alliance of convenience between those fighting the British and Britain's mortal enemy, Nazi Germany. For some Arab nationalists, this alliance of convenience mixed with a revulsion for the parliamentarism with which the British were associated and grew into an outright embrace of fascism and Nazism. As you might expect, the degree to which is a matter of endless controversy. But that's beyond the scope of the issue at hand.

But even in this context, al-Husseini was an extreme case, a thoroughgoing anti-Semite who completely embraced Hitler and Nazism and spent the war years in Germany working in various ways on behalf of the Nazis. There's really nothing good to be said about the guy. (Not that it's terribly relevant, but I'm not sure what the reference to al Husseini's dying after the war in Cairo is about. As far as I know he died in Beirut in the 70s.)

All that said, al-Husseini didn't convince Hitler to exterminate European Jewry. Hitler didn't need to convinced. (It's hard to believe this requires saying.) As bad as he was, al-Husseini was a insignificant small fry in the tragic drama of the final years of the Third Reich.
The chronology is also plainly off. Holocaust historians like Christopher Browning have long since established a solid timeline for the decision-making on the mass killing of the Jews. The basic decision was made by the senior German leadership at the latest in 1941 prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union. The mass executions of Jewish men began immediately after the invasion. Within the year, it was expanded to include Jewish women and children, a systematic and deliberate program of genocide. As Zehava Galon noted in the quote above, the Holocaust was well under way when the meeting between Al-Husseini and Hitler took place in November 1941.

Christopher Browning's essay "Beyond 'Intenionalism' and 'Functionalism': The Decision for the Final Solution Reconsidered" is included in his book The Path to Genocide: Essay on Launching the Final Solution (1992).

Adiv Sterman and Raphael Ahren report (Netanyahu blames Jerusalem mufti for Holocaust, is accused of ‘absolving Hitler’ Times of Israel 10/21/2015)

Tom Segev, a leading Israeli historian who has conducted extensive research on the Holocaust, told The Times of Israel Wednesday that the notion that Hitler needed to be convinced to exterminate the Jews was “entirely absurd.” He stressed that “one can surely say that [Husseini] was a war criminal, but one cannot say Hitler needed his advice.”

Segev, born in Jerusalem to parents who escaped Nazi Germany in 1933, further stressed that by the time Husseini and Hitler met in 1941, the annihilation of the Jews had already begun. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Jews had been killed by the Nazis and their collaborators by the time of the meeting. ...

Other commentators pointed out that Hitler had discussed the possible extermination of European Jewry as early as 1939, even before World War II began and certainly before he met with Husseini. The order to carry out a Final Solution against Jews was given in July 1941 — months ahead of the mufti and Hitler’s meeting — after which the infamous Wannsee Conference was called in order to finalize the logistics and details of the mass-murder operation.

The Wannsee Conference, held in on January 20, 1942, came after the meeting between Hitler and Husseini.
The Wannsee Conference is sometimes popularly misunderstood as the time and place that the decision for genocide was made. But that's not the case. I say "popularly," because it's very clear that Wannsee was more of a planning conference around methods, not a decision-making body that determined the aim of exterminating the Jews.

The chief historian of the Yad Vashem museum also joined in dismissing Netanyahu's claim (Luke Baker, Israel's Netanyahu stirs trouble by linking late Muslim leader to Holocaust Reuters/Yahoo! News 10/21/2015):

"To say that the mufti was the first to mention to Hitler the idea to kill or burn the Jews is not correct," Dina Porat, a professor at Tel Aviv University and the chief historian of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial museum, told Israel Radio.

"The idea to rid the world of the Jews was a central theme in Hitler's ideology a long, long time before he met the mufti." ...

A German government spokesman, asked about Netanyahu's comments, said the Holocaust was Germany's responsibility and there was no need for another view on it.
So did the US State Department: Lesley Wroughton, Netanyahu Holocaust comment not backed by scholarly evidence?: U.S. Reuters 10/21/2015.

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