Alex Rose

A Jew, a Muslim and a Nazi

“Germany was resolved, step by step, to ask one European nation after another to solve its Jewish problem, and at the proper time to direct a similar appeal to non-European nations as well.” [Adolph Hitler]

Sir Herbert Samuel, the 1st High Commissioner  for Palestine arrived in Jerusalem during June, 1920 and served as such for a period of 5 years. He was moved by the outpouring of emotion which greeted him in the Land of Israel. He had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, and although he subsequently ceased practicing religion, he remained intensely  interested in Jewish communal issues.

He was the 1st unconverted Jew to serve in an English Cabinet office. Samuel’s career differed greatly, being unique in its scope in the varied British posts he was assigned. He 1st presented the idea of a British protectorate in Palestine in 1915 and it was on the basis of Samuel’s work that the Balfour Declaration was later published. His appointment as the 1st High Commissioner of Palestine and the 1st Jew to govern in the Land of Israel in 2,000 years prompted him to experience anxiety in that he obsessed over the desire to serve his country well, while making it clear that his policy was to unite all dissenting groups under the British flag.

His appointment was viewed by many Jews as affirmation that the British promise for a Jewish National Home in Palestine would be honored.

News about Samuel’s appointment came like a thunderbolt to the Military establishment. British Army General  Louis Bols rushed to Cairo and induced  Field Marshal Allenby to object to it strenuously. On May 6, Allenby wired London that “appointment of a Jew as 1st Governor will be highly dangerous.” The Muslim population would regard it “as handing [the] country over—to a permanent Zionist Administration” and the indigenous Christian population would equally resent it. Further,  he warned of “outrages against Jews, murders, raids on Jewish villages —if no wider movement.”

Attempting to appease the Arabs in Palestine, Samuel made several concessions. He slowed the pace of Jewish immigration to Palestine, much to the distress of the Zionists. Many Zionists were ultimately  disappointed by Samuel, who they felt did not live up to the high expectations they had of him.

In fact, it was Samuel who appointed Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a noted Arab  nationalist extremist, to be Mufti of Jerusalem. This was in spite of his being 4th in the races from among  the religious Muslim dignitaries of the nation. [Pappe, 2004]. In attempting to prove his impartiality, the Zionists felt that he had gone too far, and had damaged the Zionist cause. Many Zionists were ultimately disappointed by Samuel, who they considered did not live up to the high expectations they had of him.

According to Lorenzo Kamel in his, “Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the ‘creation of a leader'”, the following abstract emphasizes Samuel’s fatal error:

Although, as stressed by the Mukhtars, the «Muftīship» was not hereditary, immediately after the death (March 31, 1921) of his stepbrother Kāmil al-Ḥusaynī, Hajj Amīn began growing a beard, wearing a ‘amamah (turban) and conducting himself as though the position was already his.

This attitude was first of all the result of what the High Commissioner Herbert Samuel had implied to him from the beginning: that he would be the next Muftī.[27] But it was also the result of a well-planned family strategy. During that period in history the Ḥusaynī clan had in fact already dismissed the possibility of supporting two other legitimate candidates. That of Fakri al-Ḥusaynī, younger brother of Hajj Amīn who – by an irony of destiny – was set aside because he was not considered an ‘ālim (a scholar of religious matters). And that of Tahir al-Ḥusaynī, the eldest of the four children of the «Grand Muftī» Kāmil al-Ḥusaynī, who, although very determined to succeed his father, was impeded from doing so by his family who perceived him as «eccentric» and «authoritarian».

“From an “external” viewpoint, the decision to support Hajj Amīn could cause considerable perplexity; if for no other reason than the fact that he had been sentenced in absentia to ten years in prison by a British military tribunal because of the active role he had played in the bloody uprisings that broke out in Jerusalem in 1920, during which five Jews were killed and many others were wounded. It was only thanks to an amnesty Samuel granted him at the behest of the Governor of Jerusalem, Ronald Storrs, that Hajj Amīn was able to return to Palestine from the country where he had chosen to seek refuge (today’s Jordan). It should be noted that also in this case several Palestinians objected to the choice.[31]

At the end of World War I, discussions commenced on the future of the Middle East, including the disposition of Palestine. On April 19, 1920, the Allies, Britain, France, Italy and Greece, Japan and Belgium, convened in San Remo, Italy to discuss a peace treaty with Turkey.  The Allies decided to assign Great Britain the mandate over Palestine on both sides of the Jordan River, and the responsibility for putting the Balfour Declaration into effect.

Elie Kedourie in his masterpiece , “The Chatham House Version  and Other Middle Eastern Studies”, dedicates an entire Chapter to “Samuel and the Government of Palestine.” In a March 1915  memorandum, Herbert Samuel muses, “Let a Jewish center be established in Palestine  [he urged],  let it achieve, as it may well achieve, some measure of spiritual and intellectual greatness and insensibly the character of the individual Jew, wherever he might be, would be raised. The sordid associations which have attached to the Jewish name would be, to some degree at least, sloughed off and the  value of the Jews as an element in the civilization of the European  peoples would be enhanced.”

Kedourie: If it be asked how Samuel reconciled his Zionist sympathies with an active career in British politics, the answer is that he saw here no  contradiction which needed to be  reconciled or resolved. When Samuel left Palestine in 1925 the country was at peace and had been so for 4 years. Palestine was endowed with a modern and generally efficient administration, and the land was beginning to know  some prosperity.

Kedourie: Why, we  may ask, was Samuel prepared to appoint as Mufti a man of this kind [Hajj Amin] and with such a record? And the answer probably lies in the situation with which he was confronted – a situation not of his making.

According to Wikipedia,  from as early as 1920 he actively opposed Zionism, and was implicated as a leader of the 1920 Nebi Musa riots. Al-Husseini was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for incitement but was pardoned by Samuel. As alluded to  In 1921, Herbert Samuelas as British High Commissioner appointed him Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a position he used to promote Islam while rallying a non-confessional Arab nationalism against Zionism.[12][13] During the period 1921–1936 he was considered an important ally by the British authorities.[14] 

Eddy Cohen’s “How the Mufti of Jerusalem Created the Permanent Problem of Palestinian Violence” [The Tower, 2015] furnishes an insightful historical account of his voluminous activities including his interface with Hitler and the Nazis.

Cohen describes Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti, as Hitler’s closest Middle East ally, who worked hard to be worthy of the Fuhrer’s praise. The subject article looks at the life and legacy of one of the most impactful anti-Semites of the 20th century. He is described as the most important Nazi collaborator in the Arab world, and a political activist who worked tirelessly for the ethnic cleansing and physical destruction of the Jews in Palestine and in the Middle East as a whole.

Despite the assurances the Mufti gave to Samuel, in fact absolute deception, the Mufti denied that the Jews had any national rights whatsoever, and especially not in the historic Land of Israel. This surely has trickled down to Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and certain Palestinian groups. No doubt the understanding of current times. Given the Mufti’s being the founding father of the Arab national movement in Palestine , he experienced little difficulty in instilling such beliefs in his disciples.

Thus, he was able to forge the single most important obstacle to peace in the Middle East: The Palestinian refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty and even physical presence in any part of the Land of Israel. In many ways, to understand the Mufti is to understand why the Palestinians, despite numerous opportunities to do so, still refuse to make peace.

In 1919, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a prominent scion of the clan, began organizing small groups of terrorists to harass and attack Palestine’s Jews. During  April 1920, the victorious Allied powers convened in San Remo, Italy. Their mission; to negotiate a peace treaty with Turkey who had fought on the defeated side.  Britain received the Mandate for Palestine, previously a member of the Ottoman Empire. A specific understanding of the assignment was that London would make good on its commitment to a “Jewish national home” as proclaimed by the Balfour Declaration of November, 1917.

As the Allies were deliberating at San Remo, al-Husseini instigated anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem on the intermediate days of the Passover festival. Six Jews were murdered and more than 200 wounded during an orgy of destruction. In consideration of his role in encouraging the violence, the British arrested him.

However, following a year’s imprisonment, Samuel the newly installed British High Commissioner , eager to dampen down tensions, pardoned al-Husseini and appointed him to the post of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. This act, Samuel said, would ensure “that the influences of his family and himself would be devoted to tranquility.”Herbert  Samuel could not have been more wrong.

With this appointment, as Mufti, al-Husseini was emboldened in pursuing the aim of violently removing the Jewish presence from Palestine. The consequence was two decades, of al-Hussein’s anti-Semitic worldview hardening, together with his determination to extinguish any prospect of the Balfour Declaration’s promise from being realized; and making him a natural Middle Eastern ally of Germany’s Nazi regime, once it launched its war of conquest and Genocide in 1939.

Within three weeks of his first meeting with Samuel, al-Husseini orchestrated riots in Petach Tikvah and Jaffa which resulted in the murders of 43 Jews and Jewish immigration in 1925 and 1926 It was also the pretext for similar anti-Jewish outbursts instigated by himi, which led a nervous British administration to wonder out loud whether stricter controls on Jewish immigration should be imposed. The Mufti  achieved his greatest political victory in May 1939, when Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald issued the infamous White Paper that set Britain’s Palestine policy on the course of appeasing Arab desires to see the Zionist state-building project extinguished.

In the House of Commons ,Winston Churchill (who did not become Prime Minister until September that year)  regarded it as a “moral blow,” the White Paper limited Jewish entry into Palestine to 75,000 over the next five years—this on the eve of the Holocaust.

Had it not been for the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, led by al-Husseini, it is distinctly possible that British policy towards Jews fleeing Nazi persecution would have been more benign; indeed, the Peel Commission of 1937 recommended the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

Had it not been for the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, led by al-Husseini, it is distinctly possible that British policy towards Jews fleeing Nazi persecution would have been more benign. However, the Peel Commission of 1937 recommended the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

Given that the violent actions were so extreme ,he was forced to escape the country to avoid being arrested by the British. However al-Husseini still managed to secure a change in British policy that condemned thousands of Jews to the burgeoning Nazi extermination program .

On June 1, 1941, during the holiday of Shavuot and a day after the Mufti’s hurried flight from Iraq, a pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad broke out. Known as the “Farhud”—a term which Edwin Black, the author of a major study of this horrific episode, translates as “violent dispossession”—the riots resulted in the deaths of nearly 200 Jews, with injuries to more than 1,000. Jewish property was looted and homes were burned indiscriminately. In effect, the Mufti and his followers were directly responsible for the pogrom.

Clearly, the brutal attacks on the Jews of Egypt and Libya were the fruit of the Mufti’s efforts over half a decade to instill Nazism, anti-Semitism, and violence in the hearts of the Arab people as a whole. Nor were his activities restricted to North Africa. In the western Balkans, he raised three SS divisions composed of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims who participated in the killing of Jews in Croatia and Hungary.

Having accomplished much  in the way of mutual interests for revolutionary Muslims and Nazis, it is not surprising that by the time he arrived in Berlin for his famous meeting with Adolf Hitler in November 1941, al-Husseini was regarded by  the Nazis as their key Arab ally, a “leader who could be installed as a collaborationist  head of state in Palestine in the event that the German army triumphed in the Middle East theater.

We owe much to Edy Cohen for his outstanding essay which includes information found in very few  contemporary history books.

Times of Israel has published a “Full Official Record: What the Mufti said to said to Hitler” on 21 October, 2015. It is derived from  the official German record dated  November 28, 1941, at the Reich Chancellory in Berlin. (Source: Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945, Series D, Vol XIII, London, 1964.) 

“The Arabs were Germany’s natural friends, Haj Amin al-Husseini told the Nazi leader in 1941, because they had the same enemies – namely the English, the Jews and the Communists.”

[Mufti]: “The Arabs could be more useful to Germany as allies than might be apparent at 1st glance, both for geographical reasons and because of the suffering inflicted upon them by the English and the Jews.”

[Hitler]: “Germany was resolved, step by step, to ask one European nation after the other to solve its Jewish problem, and at the proper time to direct a similar appeal to non-European nations as well’

About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.