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The whole world has reacted with disbelief, if not ridicule, to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's suggestion that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, and not Hitler, was the instigator of the Holocaust.
Even the Germans, usually more than willing to humour Israel, contradicted Netanyahu, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson saying "I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own."
I'm a member of Independent Jewish Voices -- Canada and we join in the condemnation. But we contend that Netanyahu's comments were not one-off ravings. They are, rather, carefully calculated attempts to justify the Israeli government's intransigence and refusal to even contemplate peace with the Palestinians.
It's hard to believe that Netanyahu took leave of his senses. He does say shocking things, but he always has a purpose and an audience in mind. So what might he have had in mind this time?
As with his statements during the Israeli election last March, where he warned of hordes of Palestinian citizens of Israel coming to vote and categorically refused any rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority -- which shocked Israel's supporters abroad -- this was meant for internal Israeli consumption, especially his own Likud supporters and those of the parties farther to the right.
A key to Netanyahu's electoral success has always been to play to, and even foment, a growing racism, paranoia and anti-Arab fanaticism in Israel.
But there's more to it. In addition to absolving Hitler for responsibility for the Holocaust, Netanyahu seems actually to have taken a page from the dictator's propaganda book.
There were many Hitler admirers, both inside and outside of Germany (including Canada's own Prime Minister Mackenzie King) who became uneasy with his treatment of the Jews, especially when news of mass killings emerged, even before the Final Solution was under way, and certainly afterward. In order to weaken this sentiment, the Nazis came up with the accusation that World Jewry had attacked Nazi Germany first, using its influence to bring political and economic sanctions against the Reich. This then became an accusation that the Jews had, in fact, declared war against Germany. What could Germany do against these enemies of the German Volk, but put them in quarantine, drive them out, and, of necessity, kill them?
And so Netanyahu is using a similar strategy against the Palestinians. The old Israeli narratives are wearing thin. The entire world is increasingly impatient with his bloody-mindedness in rejecting a peace agreement and Israel’s routine massacres, killings and humiliations. Support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is steadily growing. Individual Palestinians are taking violent revenge for years of depredation at Israeli hands. So Netanyahu has come up with a counter-narrative.
Don't you know, he says, that the Palestinians are the eternal enemies of the Jews? Jew hatred is part of their DNA, or drunk in their mothers' milk. Why, they were even responsible for the Holocaust! The Palestinians long ago declared war on the Jews. And therefore, anything Israel does is in self-defence and is permissible. All is fair in hate and war.
So far, a bare majority of Israelis (53 per cent) seem to disagree with Netanyahu’s statement (while 26 per cent agree). So let us hope that the Israeli public can come to their senses by rejecting Netanyahu's race baiting tactics, and place real pressure on his regime to end the occupation and respect Palestinians' rights.
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