File Photo: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during a news conference in Jerusalem October 15, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stirred controversy by suggesting the then head of the Muslim community in Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea to exterminate Jews -- a claim historians say is inaccurate.
In a speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu said the then grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist, convinced Hitler to carry out the Holocaust.
"Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time. He wanted to expel the Jews," Netanyahu told the World Zionist Congress.
"And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said: 'If you expel them, they'll all come here.' 'So what should I do with them?' he asked. He said: 'Burn them.'"
Israeli opposition politicians as well as Palestinian leaders have sharply criticised Netanyahu's comments, while historians say they are inaccurate.
They came amid three weeks of Palestinian unrest threatening a full-scale uprising.
The current wave of protests and repression started in late July when 18-month old toddler Ali Dawabsha was burned to death and three other Palestinians severely injured after their house in the occupied West Bank was set on fire by Israeli settlers.
The parents of the toddler, Riham and Saad, and their other son Ahmad later lost their lives after suffering serious injuries in the arson attack.
Palestinians have been protesting repeated Israeli and illegal Jewish settler attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque and closing the Muslim holy site on a number of occasions to worshippers.
The Israeli premier sought to tie his historical reference to current debates over the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, arguing that the mufti had also falsely claimed at the time that Jews were seeking to destroy it.
Netanyahu has said in recent in weeks that such Palestinian incitement over the Al-Aqsa mosque was helping feed the current unrest.
"It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much so that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust," Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
The leader of the Israeli opposition, Isaac Herzog, said on his Facebook page that "even the son of a historian must be precise when it comes to history," referring to the prime minister's late father, Benzion, who specialised in Jewish history.
The chief historian at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and research centre said Netanyahu's comments were inaccurate.
"Though he had very extreme anti-Jewish positions, it wasn't the mufti who gave Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews," Dina Porat told AFP.
"The idea far predates their meeting in November 1941. In a speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, Hitler evoked 'an extermination of the Jewish race'," she said.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.