Bibi Netanyahu continues his (vain)glorious attempt to ride roughshod over Jewish history with his recent speech to the World Jewish Congress. By now, you’ve heard the Israeli leader’s false claim that it was Hajj Amin al-Hussein, not Hitler himself, who planted the idea of exterminating European Jewry. Bibi even manages to quote their entire conversation, which is quite a historical feat considering there is no historical record whatsoever of what they actually said.
Chemi Shalev tweeted that the false claim offered by Bibi that Hitler only wanted to expel, but not exterminate the Jews was advanced by none other than infamous Holocaust-denier, David Irving. Which puts Bibi in the dubious position of earning the respect and admiration of neo-Nazis everywhere, including this “panegyric” from Daily Stormer.
What have we come to when we find Israel’s prime minister in agreement with neo-Nazis? It’s so shocking the neo-Nazis themselves can’t believe it.
Others have written well refuting the false perversity of his account and linking it to the Israeli far-right’s obsession with turning Arabs into Jew haters. One point I want to mention that others have not is that Hitler’s will to exterminate Jews didn’t originate with a single meeting with a single individual. It is there in the pages of Mein Kampf, written in the late 1920s and he nurtured and developed the idea further as he came to power. He didn’t need anyone to persuade him to commit genocide. Nor was Husseini the sort of leader who would even have such a sweeping vision.
Husseini had a very particular and narrow focus. He wasn’t interested in exterminating Jews. He wanted to prevent Jews from populating Palestine. He sought leverage against them. He wanted an insurance policy in case Hitler won.
There is little difference between what he did, and what the Irgun did in negotiating with the Nazis; and the Haavara Agreement, negotiated by the Yishuv leadership with the Nazis. Each of them believed the enemy of my enemy might be my friend. Thus Britain, as occupying colonial power, was seen as the enemy. Britain’s enemy might be their friend.
In addition, the Zionists were desperate to fill their ranks with Jewish refugees from Europe. A bargain with the devil for a few thousands Jewish souls seemed a risk worth taking. But don’t forget that in doing so, the Yishuv broke the anti-Nazi boycott founded by American Jewry. Haavara gave the Nazis much needed cash and equipment that could fund the militarization drive Hitler ordered. It’s also little-known that the Yishuv transferred nearly $700-million (in today’s dollars) between Germany and Palestine, which gave the struggling German economy a huge shot in the arm.
The leader of the Irgun who approved negotiations with German representatives was none other than Yitzhak Shamir, a future Likud Israeli prime minister.
So, if we wish to review the real historical record, as opposed to a Likudist fantasy version, we must examine the culpability of both sides in collaborating with the Nazis.
But I want to move in a different direction and link Bibi’s mangling of this part of the historical record with other instances in which he’s trashed Jewish history. The Israeli prime minister actually wrote a book (who knew?). Not a good book, but a book. A bit of shameless hucksterism called, A Place Under the Sun, not to be confused with the Hollywood version of Theodore Dreiser’s, An American Tragedy, called A Place in the Sun.
Naturally, this portion of the book portrays alleged Arab collusion with the Nazis. A sharp Israeli, living in Germany no less, printed a page from the book on Facebook and noted that in just a single sentence Bibi made no less than three errors. Bibi’s sentence reads:
Egypt can boast of a worthy trove of war criminals, like the SS Gen. Oskar Derlewanger, who murdered thousands of Jews in Ukraine and was made Nasser’s chief of security.
Ron Leyser retorts that Derlewanger was a colonel, not a general. That the SS officer never stepped foot in Ukraine (though he did murder Jews and Poles elsewhere). And finally that Derlewanger died in 1945, well before Nasser ever came to power. If there ever was a politician who murdered truth, it has to be Bibi.
Not for no reason, Sara Hirschhorn titled her Haaretz op-ed on this episode, The Death of Historical Truth. Netanyahu is no stranger to such acts of negligent historical homicide. About the BDS movement, which he called the “delegitimization campaign, he likens it to the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel:
They accused us of being the source of the world’s evil, they said we poison the wells of humanity, that we drink the blood of little children.
…What’s involved in this international de-legitimization campaign against Israel is bound up in something much deeper that…seeks to negate our right to live here.
Today’s activists on behalf of Palestinian rights are no different from those who accused us of drinking the blood of Christian babies.
Bibi’s tangential relationship to historical truth is ironic in one major way. His father, Ben Zion Netanyahu, was once the personal secretary to Zeev Jabotinsky. Later he became a noted historian of medieval Spain, who taught for many years at Cornell. My inquiries about his work brought a response from a fellow academic that he was thought to be quite tendentious and not particularly well-respected. Regardless, when your father was a historian and you play fast and loose with Jewish history, it says something about who you are. That you are willing to betray everything for political benefit. That history is nothing more than a magician drawing a rabbit from his hat. You draw out of it whatever you need without regard to facts or truth.
This, sad to say, is what contemporary Zionism has become: a farce of epic proportions. An ideology that bowdlerizes history for partisan purposes. Which tramples on the memory of Jewish martyrs in order to gain and maintain political power. There will come a day when Jews and the world turn their backs on such a travesty. When Likudism is consigned to the dustbin of history. I don’t know if it will come in my time. But I hope to see it.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.