Netanyahu under fire after accusing Palestinian grand mufti of inciting Holocaust

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has come under fire for accusing the World War II Palestinian grand mufti of convincing Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews. The bold claim has been deemed incorrect by historians and Israeli opposition leaders.

Speaking to the Zionist Congress on Tuesday, Netanyahu spoke of a series of attacks by Muslims against Jews in Palestine during the 1920s, stating that those assaults were instigated by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem at that time.

Al-Husseini flew to meet Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1941, and that meeting was instrumental in the Nazi leader's decision to launch a campaign to exterminate Jews, Netanyahu said in his speech.

"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.'”

German Führer Adolf Hitler and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin Al-Husseini meet in Berlin, 30 November 1941.

Netanyahu then alleged that Hitler asked what he should do with the Jews – to which al-Husseini replied: “Burn them.”

The comments immediately received a backlash from opposition politicians and Holocaust experts, who accused Netanyahu of twisting historical facts.

Palestinian officials said Netanyahu appeared to be absolving Hitler of his crimes in order to blame Muslims.

"It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbor so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of 6 million Jews," said Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organization's secretary general, as quoted by Reuters.

He added that Netanyahu “should stop using this human tragedy to score points for his political end.”

But the criticism didn't just come from the Palestinian side. Even Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Netanyahu's claims were incorrect.

"It certainly wasn't [Husseini] who invented the Final Solution," Yaalon told Israel's Army Radio. "That was the evil brainchild of Hitler himself."

Zionist Union MP Itzik Shmuli called on Netanyahu to apologize to Holocaust victims.

“This isn’t the first time Netanyahu distorts historical facts, but a lie of this magnitude is the first,” Shmuli said, as quoted by the Guardian.

Social media was also awash with criticism for Netanyahu.

“I can’t say it’s surprising. It’s obviously not a mistake. Netanyahu has a history of inflammatory statements,” Robert Naiman, policy director at the Just Foreign Policy think tank, told RT. “People expect different behavior from government officials,” he added.

The claim, which the Israeli leader also made in 2012, was used to illustrate what Netanyahu says is the Palestinian history of using holy sites in Jerusalem to incite violence against Jews.

It is not known which sources Netanyahu used for his speech. A 1947 book ‘The Mufti of Jerusalem’ and a newspaper report at the time said a former Hitler deputy had testified at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that al-Husseini had plotted with the Nazi leader to rid Europe of Jews.

Al-Husseini was sought for war crimes but never appeared at the Nuremberg trials. He later died in Cairo.

Netanyahu's Tuesday comments come just days after Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz accused Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of “Nazi-like incitement,” saying he is the “number one inciter in the world against Israel and the Jewish people.”

It comes amid increased tensions between the two sides. Ten Israelis have been killed in recent wave of stabbing attacks by Palestinians. In that same time period, 46 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.