Conference of Presidents Parrots Avigdor Lieberman

By Daniel Luban

On Wednesday, Ha’aretz reported on the Netanyahu government’s latest spin in its clash with the U.S. and the international community over planned settlement construction in East Jerusalem: change the subject to the Nazis.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has ordered diplomats to use an old photograph of a former Palestinian religious leader meeting Adolf Hitler to counter world criticism of a Jewish building plan for East Jerusalem.

Israeli officials said on Wednesday that Lieberman told Israeli ambassadors to circulate the 1941 shot in Berlin of the Nazi leader seated next to Haj Amin al-Husseini, the late mufti or top Muslim religious leader in Jerusalem.

One official said Lieberman, an ultranationalist, hoped the photo would “embarrass” Western countries into ceasing to demand that Israel halt the project on land owned by the mufti’s family in a predominantly Arab neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.

Lieberman’s transparent attempt to divert attention from the East Jerusalem controversy was widely derided across the political spectrum. It is, of course, a complete non sequitur — why would the mufti’s Nazi ties have anything to do with the status of Jerusalem under a peace deal? (Al-Husseini died in 1974.) As with Netanyahu’s implied accusation that Obama wants to make the West Bank “Judenrein,” the operative political strategy seems to be “when in doubt, bring up the Nazis.” Even among hardliners, few seemed inclined to take Lieberman’s ploy seriously.

Few, that is, except for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the powerful and hardline Washington group whose policies generally track those of the Israeli right. Earlier this week, Conference of Presidents chairman Alan Solow and executive vice-president Malcolm Hoenlein issued a statement defending Netanyahu and calling the Obama administration’s objections to the proposed building project “disturbing”. It included this key paragraph:

It is particularly significant that the structure in question formerly was the house of the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseni who spent the war years in Berlin as a close ally of Hitler, aiding and abetting the Nazi extermination of Jews. He was also linked to the 1929 massacre in Hebron and other acts of incitement that resulted in deaths and destruction in what was then Palestine. There has been an expressed desire by some Palestinians to preserve the building as a tribute to Husseini.

The Conference of Presidents is perfectly free to side with Netanyahu over the U.S. government if they so desire — although in that case they should stop claiming to speak for all their member organizations, not all of which agree with their pro-settlement stance. But regardless, shouldn’t the group at least make an effort to pretend that it isn’t cribbing its talking points straight from Avigdor Lieberman?

[Cross-posted at The Faster Times.]

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. “It is, of course, a complete non sequitur — why would the mufti’s Nazi ties have anything to do with the status of Jerusalem under a peace deal?”

    In fact, it couldn’t be more relevant. International objections are sending the dangerous signal that Arabs can live among Jews, but Jews can’t live among Arabs. Yet Jerusalem had a Jewish majority since the mid 19th century. This anti-Jewish racism is just what the Mufti stood for. (Indeed the Mufti wanted the Jews not only out of Palestine but exterminated – he had plans for gas chambers near Nablus). Palestinian rejectionism of Israel still has its roots in the twin fascisms fostered by the Mufti – religious bigotry and pan-Arab nationalism.

  2. A rather strange argument to be used by the Zionists since al-H was their own creation: In 1921, Herbert Samuel, British High Commissioner for Palestine and an ardent Zionist, appointed al-H to the post (that had a life-long tenure), one Samuel created – there was no such thing as a Grand Mufti prior to this. The same year, Samuel created the Supreme Muslim Council and al-H was elected President in 1922. Al-H had no religious credentials, the post was purely political. During the 1920s, not only did, with Samuel’s encouragement, Jewish immigration greatly accelerate, but there was a growing food fight over the status of the Western Wall in Jerusalem with Rabbi Kook on one side, al-H on the other. This climaxed in the 1929 Arab Revolt. After the 1936 Arab Revolt, al-H was forced to flee Palestine, or be killed by the Zionists. He first went to Lebanon, then Iraq, then Italy, and finally Germany. Other Arab nationalists were also pro-Nazi (notably the leadership in Iraq), more because they were anti-British than anti-Jewish. Bottom line: The Zionists created the Grand Mufti, just like they created Hamas and Hezbollah.

  3. Commenter bataween seems to forget that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem are illegal, and continue a pattern of aggression that goes back to the 1940s. The really relevant fact in this matter is that Israel was founded by robbing Arabs of land that they had occupied for over a millenium. The attitude of the long-dead mufti justifies displacing families and killing civilians? I don’t think so. Why should the Palestinian people have to pay for the crimes of Germans?

    More important, however, is the question Israel’s American supporters always ignore: what is America’s interest? Exactly how does supporting Israeli settlement policy help the American people? Shouldn’t the U.S. government be looking out for American interests? The rabidly pro-Israel groups and publications in the U.S. constitute a fifth column and a danger to the American people as a whole.

  4. Jon Harrison
    Educate yourself. You obviously have no idea who the Mufti was – he was directly responsible for the killing of 180 Jews in Iraq, thousands injured and property wrecked in the pro-Nazi pogrom of 1941. It is the Arabs who have robbed the Jews – now transplanted to Israel – of land they owned for 2,500 years in the Middle East and North Africa.
    As for the settlements being ‘illegal’ 360 new Arab settlements have sprung up in the West Bank .There is just as large a body of legal opinion which holds Jewish settlements ‘legal’.

  5. Ah, bataween, your riposte is a non sequitur, I’m afriad. I’m well up on the history, thank you. I didn’t say the Mufti was a nice guy — I said he’s irrelevant to the issues of today. He’s been dead for 35 years, for Chrissakes.

    I’m sick and tired of hearing that the Jews deserve to return to Palestine almost 2,000 years after they were expelled by the Romans. As I’ve said before both here and elsewhere, any American who believes this needs to immediately turn over all of his property to the nearest Indian.

    As an American, I could care less what happens to Israelis and Arabs. I just want America to mind its own business and have nothing to do with these little, silly peoples.

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