BERLIN, Germany — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday emphasized her nation’s inherent responsibility for the Holocaust, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stirred controversy by claiming that a Palestinian leader gave Hitler the idea of exterminating Jews.
Merkel, who hosted Netanyahu for talks, stressed: “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”
“We don’t see any reason to change our view of history,” she added.
Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu sparked an uproar by suggesting that a top Palestinian religious leader during World War II, noted Nazi sympathizer Haj Amin al-Husseini, persuaded Hitler to carry out the Holocaust, in which six million European Jews were systematically murdered.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time. He wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu told the World Zionist Congress on Tuesday. “And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said: ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said: ‘Burn them.'”
Netanyahu had tried to use the anecdote to illustrate his claim that Palestinian incitement goes back decades, and is not related to Israeli policies.
Holocaust experts and survivors slammed Netanyahu’s comments as historically inaccurate and serving the interests of Holocaust deniers by lessening the responsibility of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
The US State Department also weighed in, with spokesman John Kirby saying: “The scholarly evidence does not support that position.”
Netanyahu on Wednesday backtracked on the claim, denying that he was exonerating Hitler of the responsibility for the Holocaust.
Standing next to Merkel, he said the “responsibility of Hitler and the Nazis for the extermination of 6 million Jews is clear to fair-minded people.”
At the same time, he insisted that the Grand Mufti’s role should not be forgotten.
“He told the Nazis to prevent the fleeing of Jews from Europe and he supported the final solution,” insisted Netanyahu.
“The real question should be directed not at me but at [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas: Why is he and the Palestinian authority glorifying the official mufti of Jerusalem as a Palestinian icon?
“They call him the father of the Palestinian nation. This is a war criminal who was sought for war crimes,” said the Israeli leader.
Netanyahu, who is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in the German capital, urged the international community to tell Abbas to stop incitement for terror.
“If we want to have peace, we have to stop terror. And to stop terror we have to stop incitement,” he said.
At the news conference with Merkel, Netanyahu reiterated his belief that Palestinian incitement has fueled recent unrest. He pointed to Abbas’s refusal to condemn a spate of attacks on Israelis, and at accusations that Israel is changing delicate prayer arrangements at Jerusalem’s holiest site.
“I think it’s important that the international community demand President Abbas to stop the incitement and stop spreading lies about the Jewish state and about Israel’s policy.”
“Abbas joined the Islamists in inciting the recent wave of violence,” Netanyahu said and accused the Palestinian leader of “false” claims that Israel was “seeking to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque” on the Temple Mount.
The flashpoint compound, which is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, is located in the southeastern corner of the Old City in Jerusalem. Muslims call it Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) while Jews revere it as the Temple Mount which housed the First and Second Temples.
“Israel is the only guarantor in Jerusalem and elsewhere for the sanctity of holy sites,” Netanyahu said.
At their news conference, Merkel said she recognized Israel’s “obligation” to protect its citizens.
The German leader said she expects a Palestinian condemnation of anything related to terror and noted that such a condemnation was needed if peace talks were to be held.
The past few weeks have seen almost daily shooting and stabbing attacks by Palestinian and Israeli-Arab terrorists against Israeli security forces and civilians across Israel and in the West Bank.