The oversized shadow of Amin al-Husseini, anti-colonialism, and Palestinian nationalism

European racial antisemitism is responsible for the mass murder of the Jewish people – namely in the policies of the genocidal Nazi regime. While Europe has had antisemitism for centuries – going back to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the massacres of Jews by the Tsarist Russian empire – racist antisemitism is a product of European nationalism.

When examining the Holocaust and collaboration with the Axis powers, the person of Palestinian Mufti Amin al-Husseini is raised, usually by Zionist commentators.

This may initially appear unusual – the Arabs were neither victims nor perpetrators of the Holocaust. However, when discussing Palestinian nationalist resistance to Zionism, the Mufti’s conduct during the war years is raised to portray Palestinian – and the wider Muslim-majority nations – as incorrigibly antisemitic.

Israel was created on the land of Palestine, on biblically significant areas, and thus provoked a reaction from the Arab world. If Arab opposition to Zionism – indeed any such opposition – can be slandered as antisemitic, then the Palestinian cause can be weakened. Obsessively referring to the Mufti’s wartime activities helps to portray Arab nationalism as a result of antisemitic pathology.

Appointed by the British authorities as the Grand Mufti in Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine, al-Husseini was very much Britain’s man. His support for the British has been conveniently forgotten in all the invective launched against him in the post-World War 2 period. After 1936, with the defeat of the widespread Palestinian rebellion against British rule, he sought the support of Nazi Germany as an anti-British nationalist. Britain, in response to the 1936-39 uprising, decided to officially partition Palestine.

The Mufti made his way to Berlin, where he did indeed meet Hitler in 1941. He gave the Nazi salute, after meeting Himmler in 1943, while reviewing Bosnian and Azerbaijani Muslim recruits for Waffen SS divisions. He gave antisemitic broadcasts as the war dragged on, and as the failure to blunt Zionist inroads into Palestine became apparent. The Nazis were never interested in supporting non-European anti-colonial movements.

The Mufti’s collaboration was sordid and reprehensible, but it was not an isolated example. Husseini was not the first anti-British non-European leader to seek Nazi support. Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian anti-colonial activist, sought out German support for Indian independence. Aung San, father of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, appealed to Imperial Japan for assistance in the nationalist struggle for Burmese independence.

There was, in fact, one Arab political leader who modelled the party he created along explicit fascist lines. Seeking support from the Axis powers, he initiated the closest thing the Arab world has to a European-style antisemitic party – Pierre Gemayel, who created the Lebanese Christian Phalange. It is that party, finding support among the Maronite Christian Lebanese community, that would go on to ally itself with the Israeli state in the post-1948 period.

It is interesting that Maronite Christian separatism was cultivated by the leaders of Tel Aviv from the 1950s onwards. As for Husseini, the military failure of the Arab armies to reverse Israeli gains in 1948 sealed his fate – he soon after retired into political irrelevance. His collaboration with Nazism amounted to absolutely nothing. His political outlook, and his appeals for Nazi cooperation, were disreputable and bankrupt.

Rather than list the various attempts by all factions of the Zionist leadership, in the interwar years, to cooperate with the Nazi regime, it is better to highlight the distinct partiality Nazi officers displayed for the ideology of Zionism. Adolf Eichmann, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, visited budding Zionist settlements in Palestine, and spoke approvingly of what he witnessed. He commented that, had he been a Jew, he would have been an ardent Zionist.

With the passage of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, outlawing marriage and sexual relations between Jews and so-called ‘Aryans’, one Nazi officer commented approvingly of the role of the Zionist Federation in Germany – Reinhard Heydrich. A vicious antisemite and loyal Nazi to the end, he stated that while he staunchly rejected ‘world Jewry’, he appreciated the strict racial position adopted by the Zionist movement. With regards to Palestine, he wished the new colonists well in their endeavour to build their new state.

The Nazi leaders understood the benefits of, if not an outright alliance, then a marriage of convenience between the two racially separatist ideologies. Zionist spokespersons have long comprehended the necessity of antisemitism to their state-building project. In the Arab world, antisemitism had to be imported from Europe; Holocaust denial which involves the pseudoscientific production of materials purportedly ‘debunking’ the genocide of the Jews constitutes the ‘anti-Zionism of fools.’

Do not equate anti-colonialist Palestinian nationalism with European style genocidal antisemitism. Do not exploit the reprehensible political activities of the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini to Nazify the Arabic-speaking and Muslim-majority nations. Discussing the presence of antisemitism in the Arab world is one thing; obsessing about the marginal and ultimately failed role of the Mufti only serves the false goal of the Nazification of Arab nationalist resistance to settler-colonialism.

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