Reuters / September 7, 2023
JERUSALEM – The United States and the European Union on Thursday criticized remarks about the World War Two persecution of Jews and antisemitism by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In a statement, the EU’s diplomatic service said the 87-year-old Abbas’ remarks, made in late August to a meeting of his Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council, were “false and grossly misleading”.
Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, called for an immediate apology for what she called Abbas’ “hateful, antisemitic remarks”.
It was not clear why the diplomats issued statements on the remarks on Thursday, two weeks after Abbas made them on Aug. 24.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Washington-based [Zionist] media-monitoring group considered close to Israel, published an English-language translation of his remarks on its website on Wednesday.
In his remarks, Abbas said Jews were targeted by Nazi Germany because of their “social role” rather than their religion.
“This has been explained by many Jewish authors. When they said that Hitler killed the Jews for being Jews, and that Europe hates the Jews because they were Jews, no. It was clearly explained that they fought (the Jews) because of their social role and not their religion,” Abbas said.
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the president’s remarks “were quotes from writings by Jewish and American authors and historians” and not a denial of the Holocaust.
“President Mahmoud Abbas’ position on this topic is clear and has been documented, and it is the total condemnation of the Nazi Holocaust and a rejection of antisemitism,” said Rudeineh.
Abbas has frequently drawn the anger of the international community with remarks about the Nazi Holocaust, in which around 6 million Jews were murdered, as well as members of groups such as the Roma community, people with disabilities and those from sexual and gender minorities.
In a statement, the foreign affairs spokesman for the EU, one of the major donors to the Palestinian Authority, called the remarks “an insult to the millions of victims of the Holocaust and their families”.
“Such historical distortions are inflammatory, deeply offensive, can only serve to exacerbate tensions in the region and serve no one’s interests,” he said. “They play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated for.”
The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war and where Palestinians seek to establish an independent state.
Abbas’ remarks were also condemned by Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, who said in a post on the social messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter: “The Palestinians deserve to hear the historical truth from their leader, not such distortions.”
During a visit to Berlin last year, Abbas was rebuked by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz after he accused Israel of committing “50 Holocausts” in response to a question about the 50th anniversary of the attack by Palestinian militants on the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Abbas has rebuffed repeated demands from the Palestinian public to step down during his two decades in power.
Reporting by Emily Rose, James Mackenzie and Ali Sawafta; editing by Mark Heinrich and Leslie Adler