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.]