Palestinian intellectuals condemn Mahmoud Abbas’s antisemitic comments

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian  /  September 11, 2023

Palestinian Authority leader caused outrage after talking about Hitler and European Jews in a speech to his Fatah party.

Dozens of leading Palestinian intellectuals, artists and other public figures have published an open letter condemning antisemitic comments made by the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

In a letter published on Sunday, 96 people, including Rashid Khalidi, the historian, Dana al-Kurd, the political scientist, and Sam Bahour, the prominent businessman, said they “unequivocally condemn the morally and politically reprehensible comments” made by Abbas, which were publicly circulated last week.

“We adamantly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent, or justify antisemitism, Nazi crimes against humanity, or historical revisionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust,” the letter said.

In a televised speech to fellow members of Abbas’s Fatah, the occupied West Bank’s ruling political party, the 87-year-old said that Adolf Hitler killed European Jews in the Holocaust not because of antisemitism, but because of their “social role” in society, such as money lending.

Abbas said: “They say that Hitler killed the Jews for being Jews and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews.

“No. It was clearly explained that they fought them because of their social role and not their religion.” Abbas later clarified that he was referring to “usury, money and so on”.

The comments, made last month, caused international uproar after they were translated into English and published last Wednesday by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a pro-Israel press monitoring organization based in the US.

Abbas’s remarks were swiftly criticized by the US, Germany and the EU, which accused him of distorting history and promoting antisemitic stereotypes. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, stripped the longtime Palestinian leader of the city’s highest honour as a result of the affair.

Al-Kurd, a Palestinian political scientist who is one of the letter’s signatories, said: “If someone claims to speak in my name and says something abhorrent I will take every opportunity to say: ‘You don’t speak for me’. And Abbas’s comments were clearly antisemitic.

“Narratives around Abbas have been ahistorical, as if he is a legitimately elected leader … and inaccurate, as if he represents Palestinian public opinion,” she said.

Although he is viewed as a major architect of the Oslo peace process in the 1990s and was an early Fatah advocate for dialogue with the Israelis, Abbas has been accused of antisemitism on numerous occasions.

In the 1980s, while living in Moscow, Abbas wrote a much-debunked thesis claiming that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust, which he has since distanced himself from. In public and private, however, the president has frequently made antisemitic remarks over the years.

In May, the Palestinian president suggested parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany. The year before, he caused international outrage after claiming Israel had carried out “50 Holocausts” against the Palestinians during a news conference in Berlin with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz.

Abbas’s spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, has denounced the “rabid campaign” against the Palestinian president, saying that the leader’s position is “clear and documented, which is the complete condemnation of the Holocaust and the rejection of antisemitism”.

Abbas, who was initially elected for a four-year term in 2005, is deeply unpopular at home. His Palestinian Authority is regularly accused of violently suppressing its criticswidespread corruption and collaborating with the Israeli security services against its own people. Since Fatah’s Islamist political rivals, Hamas, seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 Abbas has repeatedly refused to hold elections.

“The Palestinian people are sufficiently burdened by Israeli settler colonialism, dispossession, occupation, and oppression without having to bear the negative effect of such ignorant and profoundly antisemitic narratives perpetuated by those who claim to speak in our name,” the open letter added.

“Abbas and his political entourage have forfeited any claim to represent the Palestinian people and our struggle for justice, freedom, and equality, a struggle that stands against all forms of systemic racism and oppression.”

Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian


Palestinian Authority lashes out at renowned academics who denounced president’s antisemitic remarks

Reuters  /  September 13, 2023

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian political factions on Wednesday raged against dozens of Palestinian academics who had criticized President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent remarks on the Holocaust that have drawn widespread accusations of antisemitism.

Politicians lambasted the open letter signed earlier this week by over a hundred Palestinian academics, activists and artists based around the world as “the statement of shame.”

“Their statement is consistent with the Zionist narrative and its signatories gives credence to the enemies of the Palestinian people,” said the secular nationalist Fatah party that runs the Palestinian Authority. Fatah officials called the signatories “mouthpieces for the occupation” and “extremely dangerous.”

The well-respected writers and thinkers released the letter after footage surfaced that showed Abbas asserting European Jews had been persecuted by Hitler because of what he described as their “social functions” and predatory lending practices, rather than their religion. In the open letter, the legions of Palestinian academics, mostly living in the United States and Europe, condemned Abbas’ comments as “morally and politically reprehensible.”

“We adamantly reject any attempt to diminish, misrepresent, or justify antisemitism, Nazi crimes against humanity or historical revisionism vis-à-vis the Holocaust,” the letter added. A few of the signatories are based in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

The chorus of indignation among Palestinian leaders over the letter casts light on the controversy that for decades has plagued the Palestinian relationship with the Holocaust. The Nazi genocide, which killed nearly six million Jews and millions of others, sent European Jews pouring into the Holy Land.

Jewish suffering during the Holocaust became central to Israel’s creation narrative after 1948, when the war over Israel’s establishment — which Palestinians describe as Al-Nakba, or The Catastrophe — displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. As a result, many Palestinians are loathe to a focus on the atrocities of the Holocaust for fear of undercutting their own national cause.

“It doesn’t serve our political interest to keep bringing up the Holocaust,” said Mkhaimer Abusaada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. “We are suffering from occupation and settlement expansion and fascist Israeli polices. That is what we should be stressing.”

But frequent Holocaust distortion and denial among Palestinians has only drawn further scrutiny to the tensions surrounding their relationship to the Holocaust. That unease perhaps began with Al-Husseini, the World War II-era grand mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian Arab nationalist, an enthusiastic Nazi supporter who helped recruit Bosnian Muslims to their side, and whose antisemitism was well-documented.

More recently, Abbas has repeatedly incited various international uproars with speeches denounced as antisemitic Holocaust denial. In 2018, he repeated a claim about usury and Ashkenazi Jews similar to the one he made in his speech to Fatah members last month. Last year, he accused Israel of committing “50 Holocausts” against Palestinians.

For Israel, Abbas’ record has fueled accusations that he is not to be trusted as a partner in peace negotiations to end the decades-long conflict. Through decades of failed peace talks, Abbas has led the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous body that began administering parts of the occupied West Bank after the Oslo peace process of the 1990s.

Abbas has kept a tight grip on power for the last 17 years and his security forces have been accused of harshly cracking down on dissent. His authority has become deeply popular over its reviled security alliance with Israel and its failure to hold democratic elections.

The open letter signed by Palestinian academics this week also touched on what it described as the authority’s “increasingly authoritarian and draconian rule” and said Abbas had “forfeited any claim to represent the Palestinian people.”


Palestinian leader’s comments on Holocaust draw accusations of antisemitism from US and Europe

AP  /  September 7, 2023

JERUSALEM – The United States, Germany and the European Union on Thursday condemned recent comments about the Holocaust by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accusing him of distorting history and promoting antisemitic stereotypes.

In a speech last month to senior members of his Fatah movement, Abbas said that Adolf Hitler killed European Jews not because of antisemitism, but because of their “social functions” in society, such as money lending.

“These people were fought because of their social function related to money, usury,” Abbas said in the speech. “From Hitler’s point of view, they were sabotaging, and therefore he hated them.”

The speech was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a [Zionist] think tank in Washington founded by Israeli analysts that translates speeches from Arabic and other languages for Western audiences. Critics have accused MEMRI of promoting a pro-Israel agenda.

In the Holocaust, 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their allies. Hitler considered the Jews to be an inferior race and viciously promoted antisemitic stereotypes to incite against Europe’s Jews as the Third Reich carried out the genocide.

Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, said she was appalled by what she called Abbas’ “hateful, antisemitic remarks.” In a post on X, formerly called Twitter, she said Abbas had maligned the Jewish people and distorted the Holocaust. She called for an immediate apology.

Steffen Seibert, Germany’s ambassador to Israel, said Abbas’ speech was “an insult to the memory of millions of murdered men, women and children.”

“The Palestinians deserve to hear the historical truth from their leader, not such distortions,” he added.

In a statement, the European Union said the comments “trivialize the Holocaust and thereby fuel antisemitism.”

Dani Dayan, the chairman of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, accused Abbas of Holocaust denial and distortion and promoting antisemitic stereotypes. “These reprehensible remarks must be unequivocally condemned by global leaders,” he tweeted.

Abbas has previously faced accusations of antisemitism. Last year, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned Abbas for accusing Israel of committing “ 50 Holocausts ” against the Palestinians. Abbas later apologized.

Abbas also apologized in 2017 following a speech that said Jewish money lending had caused animosity toward them in Europe and dismissed the Jewish connection to the Holy Land. At the time, he condemned antisemitism and called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime in history.”

In his doctoral thesis in the 1970s, Abbas also questioned the extent of the Nazi genocide. He has since distanced himself from those assertions.

Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, condemned the “rabid campaign” against the Palestinian president.

He said Abbas’ position is “clear and documented, which is the complete condemnation of the Holocaust and the rejection of antisemitism.”



Britain condemns Palestinian president’s remarks on Holocaust

Reuters  /  September 8, 2023   

LONDON – Britain on Friday criticized remarks about the World War Two persecution of Jews and antisemitism by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The UK condemns the recent antisemitic remarks made by President Abbas,” a foreign office spokesperson said in a statement.

“The UK stands firmly against all attempts to distort the Holocaust. Such statements do not advance efforts towards reconciliation.”

The United States and the European Union also slammed the remarks by 87-year-old Abbas which were made in late August to a meeting of his Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council.

Reporting by William James and Farouq Suleiman


Paris strips Palestinian leader Abbas of special honor for remarks on Holocaust

AP  /  September 9, 2023

PARIS – Paris has rescinded a special honor it bestowed on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas because of his recent antisemitic comments minimizing the Holocaust.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo published a letter Friday saying that “your remarks run counter to universal values and the historical truth of the Holocaust.”

Noting that tens of thousands of Jews were rounded up in Paris under the Nazi occupation and deported to death camps, Hidalgo said, “We condemn your comments with the utmost firmness. No cause can justify revisionism and negationism.”

Hidalgo awarded Abbas the city’s highest honor, the Grand Bronze of Paris, in 2015 for his efforts toward peace in the Middle East and a two-state solution.

In a speech last month to senior members of his Fatah movement, Abbas said that Adolf Hitler killed European Jews not because of antisemitism, but because of their “social functions” in society, such as money lending.

The United States, Germany and the European Union condemned his comments and accused him of distorting history and promoting antisemitic stereotypes.

In the Holocaust, 6 million Jews and others were murdered by the Nazis and their allies. Hitler considered Jews to be an inferior race and viciously promoted antisemitic stereotypes to incite violence and discrimination against Europe’s Jews as the Third Reich carried out the genocide.