Netanyahu just lost the Hitler card: Five comments

October 22, 2015


PM Netanyahu did not intend to absolve Adolf Hitler from his responsibility for the Holocaust. I believe him when he says he did not. Most of the those who criticize him probably know that he did not. Still, they criticize him. It is worth remembering that the politicians among them criticize him first and foremost because they see an opportunity – and such opportunities are rarely missed in political life.


Netanyahu did not intend to absolve Hitler, but he did get carried away in speaking on a topic about which the Prime Minister of Israel is expected to speak responsibly. He was freelancing, and, as his rival, Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog, said, he was “trivializing” the Shoah by doing that.

In case you do not know what he said, here it is – Netanyahu, aiming at the Palestinians: ”Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, 'If you expel them, they'll all come here (to Palestine).’” In Netanyahu’s version, Hitler then asked al-Husseini: “What should I do with them?” and the mufti replied: “Burn them.” Yesterday, explaining his earlier comments, Netanyahu doubled down: “My intention was not to absolve Hitler, but rather to show that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation – without a country and without the so-called 'occupation,' without land and without settlements – even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews.”


Three years ago I defended Netanyahu and his constant use of Nazi Germany in speaking about Iran’s nuclear program. It was a close call, as I wrote back then for The New York Times, but I ended up taking the PM’s side: “On the one hand, there’s the unease that comes from considering that a second Holocaust might happen. And so even the wee-bit skeptical dismiss the politicians’ alarmism and recoil at their warmongering. On the other hand, there’s good reason to be uneasy with that very unease. What if – what if – Netanyahu is right? Wasn’t disbelief part of the problem the first time around?”

I would not write the same article about Netanyahu today. True, what he intended to do is to remind the crowd that a past Palestinian leader wanted the Jews exterminated, and that the Palestinians today consider that leader a hero – not to suggest that al-Husseini was actually the one who convinced Hitler to do the deed. But this was still a bad idea. It was bad because Netanyahu got carried away and did not use careful language. It was bad because Netanyahu, by using Hitler against the Palestinians, is not just trivializing the Holocaust – he is trivializing his own messages. If everybody is Hitler, then Hitler is not so special. If everybody can be compared to Hitler, then comparisons to Hitler will no longer impress anyone.


Is Netanyahu wrong about al-Husseini? The experts have an opinion, and even though they are all supposed to be professional historians, the views of some of them concerning this matter suspiciously correspond with their general views of Netanyahu and their general views on politics.


Al-Husseini had despicable views concerning Jews and Nazis. Although he was probably not very important in bringing about the holocaust, it is reasonable to ask why today’s Palestinians want him as their national hero. Reasonable – but not necessarily productive. And if it is, there are better ways to ask that question than the one used by Netanyahu.

Let’s just say that Netanyahu was probably less wrong about al-Husseini than his friend, Minister Yuval Steinitz, was wrong about PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Earlier this week in Washington, Steinitz claimed, regarding the incitement by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, that “the level and intensity of the incitement and the level of anti-Semitism is the same level as Hitler.” Again, bad idea. Bad execution. Bad – not just because it is plain wrong. Bad because it takes away Israel’s ability to make a serious case about the real problem of real incitement on the part of the leadership of the PA, incitement that has real consequences.

In other words: when Steinitz compares Abbas to Hitler, Abbas can easily dodge the criticism and make Steinitz look like a hysteric fool. It is not good for Israel to make an argument against Abbas that he can easily reject – because Abbas is guilty of incitement and is guilty of using language that has made a bad situation worse.

It is also not so good for Israel to have ministers that look like hysteric fools.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.