Benny Morris Authorof 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War
On Friday, Representative Rashida Tlaib was attacked by President Donald Trump for a “horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust” and for having “tremendous hatred of … the Jewish people.” Trump’s off-base attack distracted from the actual problems with Tlaib’s account of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which she deployed deliberately imprecise language, misleading her listeners about the early history of the conflict in Palestine and misrepresenting its present and possible future.
Tlaib told the hosts of the Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery that when she remembers the Holocaust, it has a “calming” effect on her to think that “it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land, and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity; their existence in some ways had been wiped out … all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post the Holocaust, post the tragedy and horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time.” She was, she said, “humbled by the fact that it was [my Palestinian] ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen.”
But the historical reality was quite different from what Tlaib described: The Palestinians indirectly, and in some ways directly, aided in the destruction of European Jewry.
After Hitler’s accession to power in Germany in 1933, German and then Eastern European Jews sought escape and safe havens. But all the Western countries, including the United States and Britain and its dominions, closed their doors to significant Jewish immigration. Palestine emerged as the only potential safe haven. In 1932, the British allowed 9,500 Jews to immigrate to Palestine. In 1933, the number shot up to 30,000, and in 1935, it peaked at 62,000.
But from 1933 onward, Palestine’s Arabs—led by the cleric Muhammad Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem—mounted a strident campaign to pressure the British, who governed Palestine, to bar all Jews from entering the country. To press home their demand, in 1936 they launched an anti-British and anti-Zionist rebellion that lasted three years. Apart from throwing out the British, the rebellion’s aim was to coerce London into halting all Jewish entry into Palestine.
Moreover, the anti-Jewish violence, which claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews and wounded many more, itself served to deter would-be emigrants from seeking to move to Palestine. British entry certificates for Jews to Palestine declined to 30,000 in 1936, 10,000 in 1937, and 15,000 in 1938. Those who couldn’t get in were left stranded in Germany, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere. Almost all died in the Holocaust, which the Germans unleashed in 1941.
But the Palestinians’ contribution to the Holocaust was also more direct. Husseini, having fled Palestine during the revolt, helped pro-Nazi generals launch an anti-British rebellion in Iraq in 1941 (which itself engendered a large-scale pogrom against Baghdad’s Jews, the Farhoud). When that rebellion failed, he fled to Berlin, where he was given a villa and a generous monthly salary, and lived in comfort until the end of the world war. During the war, he helped recruit Muslims from the Balkans for the German army and the SS, and in radio broadcasts exhorted Middle Eastern and North African Arabs to launch jihad against the British and “kill the Jews.” (The texts of Husseini’s broadcasts appear in the historian Jeffrey Herf’s book Nazi Propaganda for the ArabWorld.*)