Palestinian officials have strongly criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has provoked a controversy on Wednesday, hours before a visit to Germany, by saying the former Muslim elder in Jerusalem convinced Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews.

The Palestine leaders see Netanyahu as appearing to be freeing Hitler of the murder of six million Jews in order to lay the blame on Muslims. Twitter was flooded with criticism.

While addressing the Zionist Congress on Tuesday, 20 October, Netanyahu referred to a series of attacks by Muslims against Jews in Palestine during the 1920s, saying those were instigated by the then Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini flew to visit Hitler in Berlin in 1941, and Netanyahu said that meeting was instrumental in the Nazi leader's decision to launch a campaign for annihilating the Jews.

Netanyahu, whose father was an eminent historian, was quickly criticised by opposition groups and experts on the Holocaust who said he was twisting the historical record.

"It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews," Saeb Erekat, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's secretary general, said.

"Mr Netanyahu should stop using this human tragedy to score points for his political end," said Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with the Israelis.

Even Netanyahu's defence minister, and close ally Moshe Yaalon, said the prime minister had got it wrong. "It certainly wasn't (Husseini) who invented the Final Solution," Yaalon told Israel's Army Radio. "That was the evil brainchild of Hitler himself," he added.

It is not clear what sources Netanyahu was relying on for his comments. A 1947 book "The Mufti of Jerusalem" and a newspaper report at the time said a former Hitler deputy had testified at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that Husseini had plotted with the Nazi leader to rid Europe of its Jews. Husseini was sought for war crimes but never appeared at the Nuremberg proceedings and later died in Cairo.


But, the point several historians made was that Netanyahu was twisting timelines and drawing false conclusions.

The meeting between Husseini and Hitler in Berlin took place on 28 November, 1941. Over two years before, in January 1939, Hitler had addressed the Reichstag and talked clearly about his determination to exterminate the Jewish race.

"To say that the mufti was the first to mention to Hitler the idea to kill or burn the Jews is not correct," Dina Porat, a professor at Tel Aviv University and the chief historian of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, told Israel Radio.

She added, "The idea to rid the world of the Jews was a central theme in Hitler's ideology a long, long time before he met the mufti."

Porat and others pointed out that the murder of the Jews began in June 1941. Even if the mufti wanted the Final Solution to be expanded, he wasn't the one who came up with the idea.

"For somebody who knows something about history and grew up in the house of historian Professor Benzion Netanyahu, he should know well," Porat said of the prime minister. "But in my humble opinion, to say that the mufti gave Hitler the idea is wrong."