The White House warned Benjamin Netanyahu against “inflammatory rhetoric” Thursday, in a sharp response to a statement by the Israeli prime minister to the effect that a Palestinian religious leader provoked the Holocaust.

Netanyahu on Tuesday suggested Adolf Hitler was not planning to exterminate the Jews until he met Jerusalem Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist, in 1941.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt here at the White House who is responsible for the Holocaust that killed six million Jews,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in his response to the controversial claim, which Netanyahu has since attempted to walk back.

“We here continue to stress publicly and privately… the importance of preventing inflammatory rhetoric, accusations or actions on both sides (that) can feed the violence,” he added. “We believe that inflammatory rhetoric needs to stop.”

Netanyahu’s comments were widely criticized, with Palestinian leaders and the Israeli opposition accusing him of distorting the past. Meanwhile, Holocaust experts and survivors slammed the comments as historically inaccurate and serving the interests of Holocaust deniers by lessening the responsibility of Hitler and the Nazis.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time. He wanted to expel the Jews,” Netanyahu had said in a speech to the World Zionist Congress. “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 was apparently trying to use the anecdote to illustrate his claim that Palestinian incitement goes back decades, is rooted in anti-Semitism, and is not related to Israeli policies.

On Wednesday, standing alongside Netanyahu in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized her nation’s inherent responsibility for the Holocaust. “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust,” she said. “We don’t see any reason to change our view of history.”

Netanyahu backpedaled on the claim, denying that he was exonerating Hitler of the responsibility for the Holocaust. He said the “responsibility of Hitler and the Nazis for the extermination of 6 million Jews is clear to fair-minded people.”

Hitler hosts Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1941 in Germany. (Heinrich Hoffmann Collection/Wikipedia)

Hitler hosts Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1941 in Germany. (Heinrich Hoffmann Collection/Wikipedia)

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.

He reiterated his belief that Palestinian incitement was fueling recent unrest of the past few weeks, which have seen almost daily shooting and stabbing attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians across Israel and in the West Bank.

Netanyahu pointed to Abbas’s refusal to condemn the attacks, and his accusations to the effect that Israel has been changing delicate prayer arrangements at Jerusalem’s holiest site.

“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.

AFP and AP contributed to this report.