WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments on Wednesday linking a Muslim leader to the Holocaust were not supported by scholarly evidence, the State Department said, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left Washington for talks on ending weeks of Palestinian-Israeli violence.
Netanyahu, speaking just before the start of a visit to Germany, said that Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Muslim elder in Jerusalem during the 1940s, persuaded Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jews.
Opposition politicians and Holocaust experts criticized the remarks and accused Netanyahu of distorting the historical record. A German government spokesman said the Holocaust was Germany’s responsibility and there was no need for another view on it.
State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to characterize Netanyahu’s comments as potentially inciting, but he said scholarly evidence on the Holocaust did not support the prime minister’s view.
“We’ve seen the press reports of his comments, and if you look at them, they would connote that the scholarly evidence does not support that position,” Kirby told a daily briefing.
Kerry will meet with Netanyahu in Berlin on Thursday at the outset of a trip aimed at finding ways to end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Kirby said.
He said Kerry hoped for “some level of agreement” that would calm the violence, adding the secretary wanted to see both sides moving away from rhetoric and actions that incite violence.
“What we’d like to see are steps being taken, whether they’re in word or in deed, to reduce the tensions, to try to restore some calm, and to end this terrible violence that’s going on. That’s what the secretary’s trying to do on this trip,” Kirby added.
While in Berlin, Kerry will also meet with his German counterpart and EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, before traveling on Friday to Vienna for talks on the conflict in Syria with his Russian, Turkish and Saudi counterparts.
Over the weekend, Kerry will visit Jordan where he will meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan. He will then travel to Saudi Arabia for further discussions, Kirby said.
Kerry said in Madrid on Monday he wants Israeli and Palestinian leaders to clarify their positions regarding the status quo around Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, where violence flared last month.
The mosque is Islam’s third holiest site but is also revered by Jews as the site of two destroyed biblical temples.
Under a “status quo” arrangement, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray there. Kerry has said Netanyahu assured him he won’t change the status, but Palestinians are angry at what they see as Jewish encroachment on the mosque compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Beech