A generation ago young Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on numerous American news telecasts, and I recall thinking what a bright and articulate fellow he was, and considered him reasonable in asserting Israel’s right of self defense while also at least suggesting the Palestinians had rights and legitimate aspirations in the West Bank occupied by Israel. I don’t know what happened to that Benjamin Netanyahu. Perhaps he never existed in the form he convincingly projected. Or, possibly, he hardened after countless internal and external political battles during which he acquired power as prime minister and lost it and, a decade later, got it back and lost it again before he quickly regained it for what most of the world prays will be a final time.
Each year Netanyahu lurches further to the right, embracing apartheid and justifying repression of the Palestinians because these lightly armed people somehow constitute a mortal security threat to the military colossus that is Israel. With the prime minister’s breathless support, his nation continues to violate international law by expanding Jewish settlements on Arab land in the West Bank and divide the indigenous people with hideous walls, countless checkpoints, surly guards, and modern highways for Jews only.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who faced allegations of influence peddling and corruption and who, while out of office in 2002, swore before the U.S. House of Representatives that Saddam Hussein was rapidly advancing toward the development of nuclear weapons, and who now seeks to push the United States into attacking Iran for the same unverified reasons, also has a new version of history. According to the prime minister, Adolf Hitler in November 1941 was still planning to merely expel the Jews, not annihilate them, and the Fuehrer only implemented the Final Solution after Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini complained Jews who left Europe would come to Palestine. Hitler allegedly asked what he should do. Burn them, replied the mufti. See, Netanyahu was essentially saying, we always have been and always will be surrounded by people who yearn to kill every one of us. A horde of politicians and historians rebutted Netanyahu’s lie, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during his state visit to the cradle of Nazism, told him that Germany accepted its responsibility for the Holocaust.
By then Netanyahu had retreated a little, and said of course Hitler ignited the Holocaust, but the Arabs encouraged him. It’s unclear how the corpulent prime minister learned so much about Hitler’s meeting with the mufti since no transcript from their private discussion exists. As an expert in the life and times of Hitler and the Nazis, I would like to remind Benjamin Netanyahu that Hitler in Mein Kampf had almost twenty years earlier written about his desire to “gas” the Jews. And after taking power in 1933 he rapidly established the framework to destroy Europeans Jews: he concocted the Nuremberg Laws to deny them basic rights; he built concentration camps to imprison those who hadn’t left; he used the murder of a German diplomat as a pretext to destroy synagogues and Jewish businesses and commit mass murder during Crystal Night; he unleashed Einsatz Groups, at the start of World War II, to scour Poland in search of Jews and other undesirables executed by gunshots. That’s the road to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other death factories. Benjamin Netanyahu knows this, yet he tells the big lie – a thousand lies – to demonize his eternal enemies, the Arabs, native people of a land he craves.