Two weeks ago, Mahmoud Abbas delivered a rambling 90-minute speech in Ramallah where he blamed the Holocaust on Jews’ own behavior. This was so outrageous that even his usual reliable supporters condemned him. That over-the-top claim triggered the harshest wave of condemnations ever directed at him in the West, using some of the strongest terms in the diplomatic vocabulary to denounce Abbas. The New York Times Editorial Board called for him to step down, and even the main Palestinian rights advocacy group in Germany criticized the speech and labeled it anti-Semitic. In a statement, the German Palestinian Society said that it “dissociates itself clearly and unequivocally from the remarks of Abbas.”
Trying to quell some of the hostilities towards him, Abbas apologized in a statement last Friday, in which he called the genocide against the Jews “the most heinous crime in history.” “If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them,” Abbas said in his statement. “I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths.”
But this insincere, half-baked apology was regarded as “too little, too late” by his critics and most of the international community. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman dismissed this effort, saying, “Abu Mazen is a wretched Holocaust denier who wrote a doctorate on Holocaust denial and later published a book about Holocaust denial.” He ended his remarks with “apology not accepted.”
It was so typical of this liar who has, for decades, to suit his purposes, alternated his view between recognition and denial of the Holocaust
It was so typical of this liar who has, for decades, to suit his purposes, alternated his view between recognition and denial of the Holocaust.
During his diatribe, Abbas said that European Jews have been “subjected to a massacre every 10 to 15 years since the 11th century until the Holocaust in Germany.” The Palestinian Authority president went on to say that Karl Marx had said that, “This anti-Jewish sentiment was not because of their religion, but because of their function in society, which had to do with usury, banks, and so on.” This idea that Jews brought on genocide by controlling the levels of financial power is classical anti-Semitism. What he neglected to say was that Jews were forced out of necessity to become money lenders in the Christian Middle Ages.
Abbas’ Ramallah speech declared that the root cause of the Holocaust was not so much the Nazis’ genocidal hatred of Jews; rather it was the Jews’ own “conduct,” specifically their “social behavior,” adding that he meant “their social function related to banks and interest.”
Abbas’ statement in Ramallah was merely the latest of a series of assertions that he made since the 1980s that have been widely considered anti-Semitic. Abbas has long been accused of Holocaust denial for his doctoral dissertation claiming secret ties between Zionists and the Nazis. His doctorate resulted in a book entitled The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, published in 1984.
Abbas argued then that the number of slaughtered Jews in the Holocaust had been exaggerated and that the Zionists created the myth of six million murdered Jews which he called a “fantastic lie.” Abbas raised doubts about the gas chambers and also claimed that those Jews killed by the Nazis were actually the victims of a Zionist plot aimed to “fuel vengeance against Jews and to expand their mass extermination.” To him, the Zionist movement had wished to inflate the figure of Holocaust deaths so that the gains would be greater, and as a result there would be solidarity of international public opinion with Zionism. “The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule to arouse the government’s hatred of them and to expand the mass extermination.”
The Jewish community was incensed by the Palestinian President’s accusations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned what was “another anti-Semitic speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With utmost ignorance and brazen gall, he claimed that European Jews were persecuted and murdered not because they were Jews but because they gave loans with interest. Abu Mazen again recited the most contemptible anti-Semitic canards. Apparently the Holocaust denier is still a Holocaust denier.”
Netanyahu took to Twitter to slam Abbas for his comments, which marked the second time this year that Abbas offered his take on Jewish and Zionist history. In January, Abbas said that Israel is a “colonial project” with no relationship to Judaism: “The truth is that this project is a colonial project aimed at planting foreign bodies in the region.”
Netanyahu went on to say, “I call upon the international community to condemn the grave anti-Semitism of Abu Mazen.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, Chief Executive Officer of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said, “Mr. Abbas’ remarks reflect once again the depth and persistency of the anti-Semitic attitudes that he harbors.”
Nathan J. Diament, the Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, said, “The Orthodox Union calls on all leaders and citizens to denounce and reject these sentiments. The Nazis believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were a threat to the so-called German racial community and had to be eliminated. All people of good will must repudiate Holocaust denial so that history’s tragedies do not occur again.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted: “Abbas has reached a new low in attributing the cause of massacres of Jewish people over the years to their social behavior relating to interest and banks. To all those who think Israel is the reason that we don’t have peace, think again.” Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, tweeted: “Mahmoud Abbas says money-lending Jews provoked the Holocaust…Now there’s a peace partner.”
Even liberal groups like J Street and American Friends of Peace Now, who usually side with the Palestinians and consider Abbas an icon, said the remarks were “incendiary and offensive.”
Abbas’ inflammatory remarks came at a time of rising tensions between the Palestinians and the United States and Israel. The opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem has created a serious schism between the Palestinians and the US. The Palestinian Authority has tried every which way to condemn the move. That is why Abbas wants to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. But this latest caper has not only discredited his point of view; it has damaged his image all over the world, as well.
Despite the fact that reaction to the speech was unusually unfavorable, his unacceptable theories about the Holocaust are not. The Palestinians have used them as an ideological pretense against Israel’s legitimacy since the beginning of the state. They claim that the State of Israel only exists because the West needed to find a place for the survivors of the Shoah to live after World War II. They ignore our 3,000-year-old legacy to the land.
Mahmoud Abbas’ anti-Semitic stripes will never change. Let’s just hope that the international community will finally recognize what he truly is and reject his overtures.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org