Earlier this week Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu delivered a speech at the 37th World Zionist Congress. His remarks, which included a discussion of contested religious sites such as the Harem al Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as well as settlements also included some very interesting content about the Holocaust. Specifically PM Netanyahu alleged/asserted that the idea behind the Final Solution to eliminate all Jews was not the creation of Hitler and his senior aides and associates, but rather was thought up and pitched to Hitler buy Haj Amin al Husseini. Haj Amin al Husseini was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and a member of one of the two most powerful Palestinian families/clans at the time. Haj Amin, who was involved with both the Palestinian resistance to the Jewish settlement of Mandatory Palestine (the Yishuv) and the British Mandatory Authorities, made common cause with Hitler and the NAZIs. However, the idea that Haj Amin came up with the idea for the Final Solution and convinced Hitler it was a better idea than mass deportation is simply fantasy.
And it is the fantastic elements of Netanyahu’s remarks that have received the attention. The Chief Historian at Yad Vashem has made it clear that this was not how the Final Solution was conceived of or decided upon based on the transcripts of Hitler’s meeting with al Husseini. Other’s have pointed out that the meeting actually happened after the Final Solution had begun. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also come out and made it very clear who was responsible. And while Chancellor Merkel’s, all of the actual historians, as well as some Holocaust survivors remarks are a welcome antidote to PM Netanyahu’s revisionist history, I think there is something else going on here.
Netanyahu has always been known as someone that code switches. When he’s speaking in front of one audience he’ll describe an event or his actions or a proposed course of action one way and when he’s speaking before a different group he will switch his language up and address these matters another way. Or, in the same remarks, he’ll go back and forth. In fact he was caught doing this just this week where in the speech to the World Zionist Congress he claimed to have had the fewest settlements created under his prime ministership (largely by splitting this up by his terms of office) and to another group asserting that the most settlements have been built while he’s been prime minister – one of these things can not be true.
Now its not surprising that politicians or other leaders tailor their remarks to their audiences. In the case of Netanhayu, however, it is clearly more deeply purposeful. As the Haaretz reporting linked to above relates, PM Netanyahu is a stickler for writing his own speeches and remarks – he feel’s they are part of history and the historical record. So this is not the case of a hired word smith tailoring an argument to a specific constituency or audience. Rather, I think what happened here is that the “Hajj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem developed the plan to kill all of world Jewry and convinced Hitler to implement it” portion of the speech was not intended for anyone at the World Zionist Congress. It was intended for an American audience of those who seek to equate Islam with genocidal aggression against Jews and Christians.
There are several reasons for this, not least among them is that the position of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, at the time that Haj Amin held the position, was an administrative one. Despite attempts to argue otherwise, Haj Amin was not an Islamic cleric or jurisprudential scholar from among the ulamah. He had very little Islamic education – a year at al Azhar in Cairo, but was mentored throughout his life by Rashid Rida. Moreover, after going from being a pan-Arabist to a Palestine Arab nationalist, the British exiled him from Mandatory Palestine in 1937. It was during his exile that he linked up with the NAZIs – the enemy of my enemy is my friend… While it is true that Haj Amin was not a member of the Muslim clergy and had only a limited amount of formal, Islamic religious training, he did become a promoter of Islam in his role as Grand Mufti, which is, itself, a title with religious connotations.
Netanyahu’s remarks make a lot more sense if they were directed at an American audience that has been primed by graphic images and reports of the evils that ISIS is perpetrating in Syria and Iraq, Especially as many Americans still have not established a new normal/reached a new equilibrium fourteen years after the al Qaeda attacks on 9-11-01. Politicians and special interest group leaders still routinely demagogue over issues pertaining to Islam and Muslims – everything from whether new mosques or cemeteries can be built/established to comparative historical/comparative religion material in social studies curriculums. Combine this with the fact that most Americans, including the most devout, tend to know very little factual material about their own, let alone other’s religions, and referring to an Arab and Palestinian nationalist leader by the Islamic religious title that came with his administrative office and asserting that he was the creator of the genocidal plan to kill all the Jews was a political-linguistic dogwhistle.
To most people who actually know the history of Haj Amin al Husseini, which is precious few in the US, it was immediately clear that PM Netanyahu made an incorrect statement. To the vast majority that have heard that ISIS, which claims to represent all of Islam through its new caliphate of the Islamic State, has specifically targeted non-Muslims for death, Netanyahu’s remarks will ring true. It is this latter group, and especially American elected officials, special interest group leaders, and commentators that PM Netanyahu’s remarks were aimed. Those of us who know better heard a serious error made by a hyperbolic politician with serious issues. The majority who don’t heard that in the 1940s an Islamic leader devised the plan for genocide, which reinforces the message that Islam is inherently evil and inherently in opposition, perhaps genocidally so, to all non-Muslims. PM Netanyahu is not a stupid man and he knows and understands Americans and American politicians better, perhaps, than any other foreign leader and some American ones as well. His remarks were not an accident, nor were they a mistake. They were not intended for the ears of those at the World Zionist Congress. They were intended for the ears of those in the US who have been primed since 9-11-01 to think the worst of Islam, Muslims, and Muslim-Americans. PM Netanyahu was providing cover for some of the most toxic ideas currently bounding around American politics and society and he was doing so for his own parochial purposes.