Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, to put it gently, a theatrical speaker. In 2012, he used this bombastic image to urge the United Nations to develop a clear plan to deal with Iran's nuclear program, and suggest the point at which Israeli might take military action against the country:
Earlier this month, Netanyahu gave his audience at the UN a 44-second long silent treatment to illustrate his displeasure with the Iran deal.
So it comes as no surprise that Netanyahu made a splash during a speech to the 37th World Zionist Congress on Tuesday. What was surprising, however, was what Netanyahu actually said, which includes the phrase, "Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews." Huh?
Netanyahu argued that the Third Reich's final solution was not thought up by Hitler, but instead by then Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini. Netanyahu said that the mufti was "sought for war crimes in the Nuremberg trials because he had a central role in fomenting the final solution," and continued:
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."
The claim, not surprisingly, was widely criticized. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "We are very clear in our minds about the Nazis' responsibility for the break with civilisation that was the Shoah," adding that her "abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust." (Netanyahu, for what it's worth, said he isn't necessarily giving Hitler a pass: "I had absolutely no intention of absolving Hitler of his diabolical responsibility for the extermination of Europe's Jews," he said).
Israeli leaders also reacted strongly to Netanyahu's words. Isaac Herzog, an Israeli opposition leader who ran against Netanyahu in the recent election, wrote a scathing comment on his Facebook page opposing Netanyahu's views. Israeli news site Ynetnews translated the post from Hebrew: "There was only one Hitler. Hitler did not need Husseini to order the murder of Jews just because they were Jewish."
Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz points out that this is not the first time Netanyahu has pushed the theory in public. In 2012, the paper reports, Netanyahu called Husseini "one of the leading architects" of the final solution when speaking to the Israeli Knesset.
And though Netanyahu's theory is beyond the pale of accepted Holocaust scholarship, there are some who believe that Husseini played a role in the genocide. Ha'aretz explains:
The argument concerning Husseini's role was recently mentioned in a book by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, "Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East." The authors, like Netanyahu, draw a straight line between the mufti's support of Hitler and the policy of the Palestinian Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat.
There is no question that there was a relationship between Husseini and Hitler. Ha'aretz uploaded this 1941 newsreel showing a meeting between the pair:
The BBC reports that Husseini aligned himself with the Nazis after he fled the Palestinian territories in 1937:
[Husseini] continued his campaign to oppose British plans to partition it into a Jewish state and an Arab one, allying himself with the Nazis during World War Two. Husseini met Hitler in Berlin in November 1941, when he tried to persuade the Nazi leader to declare his support for the creation of an Arab state, according to German press reports at the time.
But experts say the meeting between Husseini and Mufti happened after the final solution had been put into place. Dina Porat, head historian of Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, told Ynet that, "You cannot say that it was the mufti who gave Hitler the idea to kill or burn Jews," she said. "It's not true. Their meeting occurred after a series of events that point to this."
So Hitler remains the only Hitler.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.