Antisemitic Mufti egged Nazis on to extremism

In the week when a report on antisemitism in the Arab world declared it astrategic threat to Israel, we ask: Was Arab antisemitism imported from Nazi Germany, or was it strictly a Muslim affair? A debate on this question has been raging between Matthias Kuntzel and Andrew Bostom. Now, however, a book by Klaus Gensicke titled Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nazionasozialisten, reviewed by John Rosenthal in the Hoover Institution Policy Review (April/May 2008) shows the relationship between the Mufti and the Nazis to be very much a two-way street. In some ways, the Mufti convinced the Nazis to become more extreme, eg on Jewish immigration to Palestine. Escaping to Berlin following their failed Iraq coup and the vicious Farhoud pogrom that followed, both the Mufti and Rashid Ali al-Gailani spent the war years dancing around Hitler, trying to push their Iraq-centred and anti-Jewish genocidal agenda. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

“Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem and the “father” of Palestinian radicalism, is obviously a key figure for such debates. As is well known, from 1941 to 1945 Husseini lived in Berlin as the honored guest of Nazi Germany. During this time, he notably collaborated with the Nazis in assembling the Muslim ss division “Handzar” in Bosnia, as well as in numerous propaganda activities aimed at Arab speakers. Whereas the facts of Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis are widely known, what is less know, however, is the degree to which the mufti was influenced by or indeed himself influenced his hosts on an ideological and programmatic level. But a new book by German historian Klaus Gensicke titled Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten — “The Mufti of Jerusalem and the National Socialists” — sheds light on precisely this question. Based largely on primary source materials from the German archives, Gensicke’s volume provides unparalleled insight into the details of the mufti’s relationship to his Nazi hosts: at least as seen from the German side.

Gensicke’s 1988 doctoral dissertation is one of the principal sources for Küntzel’s discussion of the mufti in Jihad and Jew-Hatred and Küntzel himself wrote the preface for Gensicke’s new book: an updated version of the dissertation. Nonetheless, the Gensicke volume also provides considerable support for the thesis that, so to say, “native” Islamic sources of anti-Semitism are primordial in Muslim or Arab anti-Semitism. At the very least, Gensicke’s account shows the relation between the mufti and the Nazis to have been very much a two-way street: even — or indeed especially — as concerns the notorious “Jewish Question.”

Thus, in March 1933, only two months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, it was in fact the mufti who sought contact to the new German authorities and not vice-versa. In a March 31 telegram to Berlin, the German general consul in Jerusalem, Heinrich Wolff, reported on his meeting with Husseini:

The Mufti explained to me today at length that Muslims both within Palestine and without welcome the new regime in Germany and hope for the spread of fascist, anti-democratic forms of government to other countries. Current Jewish economic and political influence is harmful everywhere and has to be combated. In order to be able to hit the standard of living of Jews, Muslims are hoping for Germany to declare a boycott [of “Jewish” goods], which they would then enthusiastically join throughout the Muslim world.

As Gensicke explains, however, the initial German response to the mufti’s advances was cool. Indeed, the German attitude toward the mufti would remain reserved throughout the first years of Nazi rule. At the time, the Nazi leadership still hoped to come to an understanding with Great Britain that would allow it to pursue unhindered its expansionist goals in Eastern Europe. In return for British acquiescence, it was prepared to treat the Middle East as part of the British sphere of influence.

Moreover, for at least part of the Nazi leadership — Gensicke points in particular to Deputy Foreign Minister Ernst von Weizsäcker — the immigration of German Jews to Palestine represented a tolerable solution to Germany’s supposed “Jewish problem.” This attitude was obviously inimical to the plans of the mufti, who pleaded with German authorities to restrict Jewish immigration. Starting in August 1933, however, they did the opposite: in effect, facilitating Jewish immigration under the complex terms of the so-called Haavara or “Transfer” Agreement. The Haavara Agreement simultaneously permitted German Jews to transfer part of their wealth to Palestine and favored German exports to the region — the latter aspect earning it the support also of the Economics Ministry. “It cannot be denied that the Haavara Transfer made a considerable contribution to the development of Jewish settlement in Palestine,” Gensicke writes.

The immigration of Jews to Palestine represented a tolerable solution to some in the Nazi leadership, but it was inimical to the mufti’s plans.

By August 1940, however, the situation had radically changed. The outbreak of the war had brought the Haavara Agreement to an end. Even while it was still at least formally in effect, moreover, the Germans had already been quietly providing financial and material support to the mufti-led “Arab Revolt” in Palestine from 1936 to 1939. The aim of the revolt was precisely to stop Jewish immigration. After guiding the Arab Revolt from exile in Beirut, the mufti had in the meanwhile taken refuge in Iraq. There he allied himself with the pro-Axis circle around new Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gailani, who had recently replaced the pro-British Nuri as-Said. On August 26, an emissary of the mufti by the name of Osman Kemal Haddad met with Fritz Grobba of the German Foreign Office in Berlin. According to Grobba’s notes, Haddad asked for a declaration from Germany and Italy recognizing the right of the Arab countries to independence and “self-determination” and that they might resolve the “question of the Jewish element” just as Germany and Italy had done. In return, Haddad promised that Iraq would accord Germany and Italy “a privileged place” in its foreign relations: notably as concerns the “exploitation of Iraq’s mineral resources and in particular its oil reserves.”

Only the defeat of Rommel at the second Battle of El Alamein prevented German forces from entering Palestine and carrying out operations against the Jewish population.

Gailani would resign his post in January 1941 and then be returned to power by a coup d’état four months later. The British military intervention that followed would bring a provisional end to the mufti’s plans of transforming Iraq into a pro-Axis beachhead in the Middle East. “Sonderkommando Junck,” a somewhat perfunctory German Luftwaffe mission dispatched by the Reich to support its allies in Iraq, could not reverse the trend. Both the mufti and Gailani fled to Tehran toward the end of May. Even after their departure, Gensicke writes, “a wave of acts of intimidation and terror on the part of the pro-Axis forces continued.” These included a major anti-Jewish pogrom, known as the “Farhud,” in which some 179 Iraqi Jews were killed.

“As Gensicke’s account makes clear, moreover, the Nazi leadership would continue to accord central importance to the Iraqi “liberation struggle.” The deposed Iraqi Prime Minister Gailani followed the mufti to Berlin, where he, too, would take up residence starting in November 1941. For the remainder of the war years, the two Arab leaders would compete jealously for the Nazis’ favor. In light of the obvious parallels between the anti-British Iraqi “liberation struggle” of the early 1940s and the anti-American Iraqi “liberation struggle” of today, it is curious that Nazi Germany’s involvement in the former has not received greater public attention. A separate study of Gailani’s collaboration with the Nazis would undoubtedly be rich in historical lessons.”

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