On the New York Times, The Grand Mufti and why it is Relevant

These are arguably the early days of the new Middle East, not the chimera of the Oslo Accords, but the days of actual peace, normalization, civility and dialogue. That said, it is legitimate to ask why do we pull the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem off the dustbin of history where he belongs, and discuss him and his legacy as if to intentionally contaminate the clean air that more and more people breathe in the Middle East? .It is a valid question, but the answers are also valid, if not somewhat sad, some will say sobering. The Grand Mufti led a pivotal role in the Palestinian movement, emphasizing its distinctly religious nature. This Palestinian movement still maintains the flames of conflict, while the Arab world around seems to curb these flames, and Islam continues to play a major role in what is left of the conflict, judging by the central role of Iran and Turkey as leaders of the anti Israel camp in the Middle East. Above all perhaps is the fact, that anti Israel writers representing all kinds of political stripes, mention the Mufti in a way which cannot stay unanswered, especially because it touches upon the thorny and most painful issue for Jews, and this is the Holocaust. Moreover, the use of its legacy by our adversaries, and among them also the New York Times[NYT].

On 6 October two NYT correspondents , Ben Hobbard and Isabel Kershner published an article relating to comments by the famous Saudi Prince Bandar, once a very influential person in DC where he served as a Saudi ambassador for many years, and still today a close confidant of the Saudi royal family. In their piece, the two wrote about the famous Husseini [the Grand Mufti] and Hitler meeting on 28 November 1941, that’’while there is a broad agreement that Mr.Al Husseini collaborated with the Nazis against Zionism, historians differ on the significance of his relationship with Nazi leaders’’. So, these two NYT writers gave vent to one of the most vile anti Israel lines of propaganda, that which distinguishes between anti Zionism and antisemitism. This is where the story of the Mufti[1895-1974] ceases to be an episodic note from a distant, unpleasant past, and starts being an ugly, disturbing feature of a very uncomfortable present.

If there is a person, if there is an event which show clearly that anti zionism and antisemitism are one, it is this meeting and this Mufti .On the 28 November 1941, the ‘’Final Solution ‘’ was already a reality, though the formal , bureaucratic stamp was given in the Vannsee conference on 20 January 1942. The Einsatzgruppen were already in full operation in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. Did they check the Jews whether they were Zionists ?. Were they ordered to kill only Zionist Jews? Just asking these questions in 2020 arouses a simple sense in me, one of revulsion that they become necessary questions because of something published in the NYT, of all newspapers. Obviously, Hitler and his buddy Husseini discussed Jews , not Zionists. Obviously, the two NYT should have known it, and if they somehow did not , then their editors should. Here is where the story is getting more significant,rather than just a source of complaint about one particular piece in a newspaper which is considered by many, including a lot of Jews , to be the source of journalistic truth on earth.The said NYT piece referred to Prince Bandar’s attack on the current Palestinian leadership which specifically mentioned the Mufti collaboration with the Nazis. Bandar referred mistakenly to the 1930’s and that can be attributed to his insufficient knowledge of history, but his words were still straight to the point. He stated, ‘’Amin al Hussini in the 1930’s was betting on the Nazis in Germany ‘’.[an interview to Al Arabiyya, 5 October 2020].Bandar did not make any distinction between Jews and Zionists. The NYT did.

Clearly , the Grand Mufti was a bad guy, and when dealing with bad guys, it is important to say the truth, no need to exaggerate about them. Sadly, PM Netanyahu did the former in October 2015, when he made an unfortunate, in fact, a very bad statement to the effect, that ‘’Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews…[but -J.O] the Mufti replied[to Hitler-J.O] ‘’ burn them’’. It was nonsensical , and Netanyahu tried to explain it later, but the damage was done. The reason ,that this Netanyahu aberration is mentioned here is, that while we rightly condemn the NYT over their gross misrepresentation of the Mufti , there is a need to refrain from such misrepresentations on our part.There is also a need to refrain from misrepresentation of the Saudi positions on Jews .They are far from doing what they should do in order to eradicate the anti semitic text books and so many other manifestations of their traditional anti Jewish bias, not just anti Zionism. As late as 2018, the ADL protested the fact, that the Saudis reneged on their promise to remove incitement from state textbooks by the beginning of the 2008 academic year.Yet, the Saudis are moving in the right direction, and what Prince Bandar said was an indication of that. Before him, the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman equated the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamene’i to Hitler. This was an unprecedented statement. [ The Atlantic, 2 April 2018].This was a clear signal, that Khamene’i was demonic because he was another Hitler.

That said, we can go back to the NYT. It is not a coincidental mistake on their part to publish on 6 October whatever it was about the Mufti as this piece was cleared through the entire echelons of the newspaper, and more importantly it fitted into a narrative commonly used by enemies of Israel. Writing that exposes me to the inevitable charge of being paranoid, and the answer is very simple. Better be paranoid , then stay silent when evil historic distortion is getting credence only because it happens to be published in the NYT. It is there , and it is in many other places. This is the narrative indicating by our enemies, that Israel may have one card in its possession, that is used by her in order to advance the claims for statehood , and this is the holocaust. The holocaust thus became another battle field between Israel and its supporters , and those who want to have no Israel.Belittle the holocaust, make it an anti Zionist case, not anti Jewish , deny it altogether and you expose how illegitimate , if not evil Israel is.

Few days ago, one of Israel’s fiercest enemies, Norman Finkelstein said, that holocaust denial is legitimate and should be taught in universities by holocaust deniers. [JC, 23 October 2020]. I do not think, that the Grand Mufti, if he was to emerge from the grave would be suitable to teach that there was no holocaust. He so wanted it to be,and to include ALL Jews, not just Zionists. He witnessed it first hand, and heard it from the perpetrator Hitler. I am sure however, that the NYT guys should have known it full well, but they still wrote that he referred only to Zionists.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina