Israel Pulse

Holocaust comments gaffe won't harm Bibi

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Article Summary
Even if Israeli media treated with satire, rather than drama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comment on the Holocaust and Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, he scored some points again with his electorate.

European media have latched on and won’t let go — headlines and analyses everywhere. It’s completely wild. Bibi [Netanyahu] has caused us grave damage,” a former Israeli ambassador to a major European capital said in despair, speaking on condition of anonymity on Oct. 22.

The former envoy, who monitors European media on a daily basis, sounded horrified. He described at length the pointed discussions being conducted abroad since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, was the one who planted the seed for Hitler’s Final Solution idea. This claim, which has been discredited by many historians, set off a huge storm, as expected. In Europe, and especially in Germany where Netanyahu landed Wednesday, Oct. 21, for an official visit, the discussions dealt with the essence of his comment and its significance. On the other hand, Israeli media, and especially the social networks, reported what he said and then immediately went on to the wholesale production of jokes at the prime minister’s expense.

Even before the Hitler and Mufti affair, Netanyahu was caught more than once in embarrassing historical gaffes. That is why the current one, which, if taken seriously, is dramatic by any means, did not surprise the Israeli public. They are familiar with Netanyahu’s “shticks” and tricks and exaggerations and falsehoods; this or that kind of comment does not really damage his credibility, because this, in any case, is not his strong suit. And so, after a full 24 hours laden with outraged historians and sarcastic comments by political opponents (Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog: “Even the son of a historian [reference to historian Benzion Netanyahu, the premier's father] should get his historical facts straight”), social media and websites were flooded with jokes and cute caricatures about the prime minister, who once again rewrote a historic event. The parodies about Netanyahu provided comic relief, a type of collective catharsis, for the tremendous tensions generated by the current wave of terror attacks.

A major Israeli news website, Walla, which is not considered hostile to the prime minister, provided one of the sharpest and most entertaining texts, headlined: “Not just the Holocaust: 28 additional historic events for which Haj Amin Al-Husseini is responsible.” For example: “Kurt Cobain planned to start work on a new album but Haj Amin Al-Husseini convinced him to commit suicide.” 

The Web also celebrated with visual arts, providing entertaining moments at Netanyahu’s expense. In a caricature drawn by the artist who signs off as “Mysh,” Hitler tells Al-Husseini: “I only want to banish a few Jews,” and the Palestinian leader vehemently responds: “No! Exterminate them all.”

One Facebook page shows Hitler looking out of a cafe window with a dreamy look on his face and the caption: “This is the story of a good boy, a dreamer, who was brainwashed by Palestinian extremists into wanting to kill all the Jews.”

Another site, called “Holes in the Net,” uploaded a long list of posts and jokes provided by thousands of surfers, such as: “Bottom line, the one who is really to blame is Hitler’s mother, who saw him hanging out with that Haj guy, a really bad influence, and didn’t do a thing,” or “After the prime minister saw British soldiers out the window, met [former Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon in a tank, commanded over [former Minister Rehavam Ze'evi] Gandhi and exonerated Hitler, the next stage is aliens.” That post is a reference to some previous Netanyahu gaffes, such as the 2006 interview in which he recalled seeing British troops in Jerusalem outside his window as a boy — although he was born in 1949 — a year after the last of the British troops left Israel. Regarding former Cabinet member Rehavam Ze’evi, Netanyahu delivered a eulogy full of pathos in the Knesset, saying “Gandhi” had been a member of his government, which was never the case.

Guy Morad, who illustrates the daily caricature in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, took advantage of Netanyahu’s remark to portray him as a student on his way to school, saying goodbye to his historian father. The father asks him whether he had studied for his history exam, and Netanyahu answers: “No need, Dad, I’m on top of things,” with a telltale Pinocchio-style long nose providing the punch line.

On the right side of the political map, Netanyahu’s words were quickly used to justify the claim that Palestinian terrorism is in no way related to the occupation and settlements and existed even before the establishment of the state. In other words, even if Netanyahu slightly distorted events, the main thing is that the Mufti wanted to exterminate the Jews. After all, it is a fact that the Mufti, Al-Husseini, was known for his rabid hatred of the Jews and his kinship for the Nazis, and he did indeed meet with Hitler in November 1941 and asked him to apply the Final Solution to the Jews of the Middle East, too, according to the [meeting's] protocol. (In an article printed Oct. 22 in Yedioth Ahronoth, chief Yad Vashem historian professor Dina Porat wrote, among other things: “In the protocol summing up the said meeting, at the end of November 1941, the Mufti asked Hitler to include the Jews of the Land of Israel, the Middle East and North Africa in the Final Solution, and Hitler promised to continue his all-out fight against Judaism.”)

A post by Web heavyweight Moti Ohana, who is identified with the Likud Party, says: “So the bottom line is that two things have been achieved: Every child now knows who the Mufti was and what were his ties to Hitler and the Nazis, and every boy except for Buji [Isaac Herzog] understands that the Arabs of Israel, who are called Palestinians, wanted the extermination of the Jews back in 1920 and this has nothing to do with occupied territory.”

This proves that Netanyahu got what he wanted: a link between the Palestinian motivation to eliminate the Zionist entity, regardless of the settlement enterprise, and the Nazis and Hitler. In terms of the right-wing rhetoric and his electorate, this is a real gift.

True, the prime minister took quite a beating over the tremendous damage he wrought by making cynical use of the Holocaust and rewriting history, but this incident has no bearing on the way Israelis see him. These perceptions were formed a long time ago, and there’s very little that hasn’t been said and written about him — both by his supporters and opponents. In addition, after so many years, Netanyahu is also the sum total of all his lies and little fabrications.

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Found in: terrorism, social media, mufti, media, isaac herzog, holocaust, benjamin netanyahu

Mazal Mualem is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse and formerly the senior political correspondent for Maariv and Haaretz. She also presents a weekly TV show covering social issues on the Knesset channel. On Twitter: @mazalm3

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