It was the time when there was no State of Israel, before there were Arab refugees, occupied territories and Zionist criminals. The Kotel, Old City, West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Jerusalem were part of the British Empire, under a strange governance that included a dominant role for Haj Amin al-Husseini. This is his story.
The highest office, governing both Muslim religious and secular affairs in the Holy Land, was that of the Mufti. In the interwar years, al-Husseini held this sensitive position and proceeded to lay the ideological and programmatic foundations for the holy war and anti-Jewish crusade that was the hallmark of Middle East conflict for the next century.
The book under review, “Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam,” by David Dalin and John Rothmann, is the story of the genesis of that conflict and the man who inspired it. The Mufti of Jerusalem, and by extension Palestine, was to give the political and religious atmosphere of the region a hateful polity that anticipated the Nazi ideology by a generation.
Al-Husseini’s’s target was Zionism, and its program for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land. His agenda was to eliminate Judaism as a spiritual presence in the Middle East and subsequently the world. Icon of Evil, published by Random House, deals with an era that was to foreshadow a century of hate and murder on a scale unheard of in human history.
Al-Husseini, together with his cohorts, set the pattern for what was to morph into mass genocide. Consider the litany of horror that filled the pages of 20th-century history with blood and smoke. It was al-Husseini who instigated and led the Arab uprisings starting of 1920, 1939 and 1936 in all the major holy cities of Israel, including Jerusalem and Hebron. The murderous outcome established the pattern of plunder and murder that served as the model for the intifadas later that century. It was al-Husseini who openly collaborated with Hitler and helped fuel plans for Jewish genocide so as to halt aliyah, all of which is fully documented in this book. It was al-Husseini who personally visited Auschwitz, incognito, together with Adolph Eichmann, to witness firsthand the execution of the Holocaust. It was the Mufti who personally introduced European-style anti-Semitism to the Middle East by promoting the translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf. And it was the Mufti who was directly responsible for the establishment of the Muslim Waffen SS unit that massacred 90 percent of Bosnian Jewry.
All the above predated the State of Israel and defies all reasoning. Indeed, it can be said that, based on the facts in the book, al-Husseini’s actions and writings serve as an inspiration to the current leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.
This mindset is relevant today when one considers that the current head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, earned his doctorate on the premise of Holocaust denial. The irony is that Abbas occupies a secular position previously held by al-Husseini, who personally participated in it. A double irony is that he earned this doctorate at the Moscow Oriental College in 1983, a Communist-run institution that would hardly give credence to Holocaust denial if it had not fit Communist interests at that time.
An additional feature of the book is the extensive treatment given to speculation on what would have resulted if the Nazis had conquered the Middle East and Israel. There is also the attempt by the Mufti to get the Nazis to launch a massive air attack upon Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods. This brazen behavior puts to a lie the Islamic claim that the premise of their opposition to the state is anti-Zionism and not anti-Semitism. Given the tone of this time of year on the Jewish calendar, a reading of this book is most appropriate. The personalities of tyranny who attempted to destroy our faith and people deserve close study. From their actions, we can learn to better identify and cope with future tyrants who wish us ill. And of those, unfortunately, there is no shortage.
The following is an excerpt from the book, the affidavit of Dr. Rudolph Kastner at Nuremberg.
As a leader of the Jewish Rescue and Relief Committee in Budapest, I requested the competent German authorities to grant the emigration to Palestine of a group of Hungarian Jews. In the course of these negotiations, which are the subject of my testimony deposed in the minutes of the Nuremberg trial, the high Gestapo official Eichmann declared he would be willing to recommend the emigration of a group of 1,681 Hungarian Jews, on condition that the group should not go to Palestine. “They may go to any country but Palestine,” I was told by Eichmann, who, as leader of the Department IV.B. of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, was personally responsible for the deportation and extermination of the European Jews.
At first, his argument for his negative attitude towards the emigration to Palestine was that he did not want to rouse the Arabs against the Reich. At last he said to me literally: “I am a personal friend of the Grand Mufti. We have promised him that no European Jew would enter Palestine any more. Do you understand now?”
Some days later, SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Dieter Wisliceny, a close collaborator of Eichmann, confidentially confirmed to me the above statement of his chief, and added: “According to my opinion, the Grand Mufti, who has been in Berlin since 1941, played a role in the decision of the German Government to exterminate the European Jews, the importance of which must not be disregarded.
He had repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he has been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution of the Palestine problem. In his messages broadcast from Berlin, he surpassed us in anti-Jewish attacks. He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and has constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures. I heard say that, accompanied by Eichmann, he has visited incognito the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”
A version of this column was first published in 2008.