The Electronic Intifada / September 12, 2023
In the last week, there has been a storm of criticism instigated by Israel and its lobby against Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, over remarks he made falsely exonerating the anti-Semitism of the European Christian regimes that murdered millions of European Jews during the Holocaust.
“They say that Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews, and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews,” Abbas said in a speech, video of which was circulated by the Israel propaganda organization MEMRI.
“No,” Abbas asserted, adding that Jews were persecuted because of “their social role, which had to do with usury, money, and so on.”
Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan led the charge against Abbas.
“This is the true face of Palestinian ‘leadership,’” Erdan railed.
“The world must wake up and hold Abbas and his Palestinian Authority accountable for the hatred they spew and the ensuing bloodshed it causes,” the Israeli diplomat demanded. “There must be zero tolerance for Palestinian incitement and terror.”
A deluge of condemnation followed – too voluminous to do anything but sample – from the likes of Ritchie Torres, a Democratic member of the US Congress, to Israel lobby leaders such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt.
Deborah Lipstadt, the US government’s special envoy on anti-Semitism, castigated Abbas for “hateful anti-Semitic remarks” and for making a speech that “maligned the Jewish people” and “distorted the Holocaust.”
Not to be outdone, the European Union and its anti-Semitism coordinator Katharina von Schnurbein joined in the chorus:
And the enraged mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, fired off a letter to Abbas in which she charged that the PA leader “justified the extermination of the Jews of Europe during World War II with a clear desire to deny the genocide.”
As punishment, she stripped Abbas of a medal the French capital had awarded him in 2015.
Those not paying close attention might have missed that the latest storm of indignation is yet another re-run of a long-running show.
This is a charade that serves to promote the fiction that Israel and Mahmoud Abbas are enemies, when in fact they are the closest of allies in every respect.
In 2018, for instance, Abbas made comments almost identical to those that set off this week’s firestorm.
At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the “brazen gall” of Abbas’ “anti-Semitic speech.”
“Apparently the Holocaust denier is still a Holocaust denier,” Netanyahu said of Abbas.
One would think, therefore, that if any of the outraged criticism was in good faith, the United States, the EU and especially the world’s only self-styled “Jewish state” would refuse all dealings with such an odious personality spouting such repulsive views.
But that is far from the case.
Throughout the decades and until today, Abbas has continued to enjoy full support from the United States, Israel and European governments, despite being overwhelmingly rejected by the Palestinian people themselves.
On Tuesday, Israeli and Palestinian media reported that the United States, with Israeli approval, once again transferred arms to the Palestinian Authority to fight against the Palestinian resistance – which Israel and its sponsors define as “terror.”
“The Palestinian Authority reportedly received a shipment of armored vehicles and weapons from the United States, as the Biden administration and Israel look to assist Ramallah in regaining control over West Bank areas that have become hotbeds for terror activity,” as The Times of Israel reported.
“Citing informed Palestinian sources, the Jerusalem-based Palestinian daily Al Quds said Monday that the shipment was facilitated by Jordan and will be used by several branches of the PA security forces,” The Times of Israel added.
“Notably, the shipment was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government, which includes representatives who have long criticized the transfer of weapons to the PA.”
This week too, the Dutch government, another staunch ally of Israel, sent its defense minister to Ramallah in a show of support for the US-trained “security forces” controlled by Abbas.
These are only the latest steps by the West and Israel to shore up Abbas, on whom they fully rely as their native enforcer against the Palestinian people’s liberation struggle.
‘He does the job for us’
As recently as July, Netanyahu affirmed, “We need the Palestinian Authority. We cannot allow it to collapse.”
“Where it succeeds in operating, it does the job for us,” the Israeli leader added, even promising Israeli financial aid if that was what was needed to keep Abbas’ collaborationist regime afloat.
Indeed, Israel has been so concerned to maintain Abbas and his clique in power that in 2021 it sent the chief of its Shin Bet secret police to Ramallah to order Abbas to cancel planned Palestinian Authority legislative elections that Israel feared Abbas’ Fatah faction would lose to Hamas.
Abbas, naturally, complied.
This is the truth: Netanyahu, like other Israeli and Zionist leaders since the dawn of the Zionist movement, has had no qualms about working closely with those they consider anti-Semites, and even Nazis, if that suits their goal of conquering Palestine and stealing its land from its indigenous Palestinian people.
At the same time as they indulge Nazis and anti-Semites, Israel and its allies cynically weaponize accusations of anti-Semitism to silence and smear supporters of Palestinian rights whose solidarity is deeply rooted in genuine anti-racism.
From the moment of its inception – under the umbrella of the Oslo accords that were signed 30 years ago this week – the Palestinian Authority was conceived, armed and financed to act not on behalf of the Palestinian people, but to protect and defend the occupier and its colonial settlers.
Palestinian ‘open letter’
It is in this context that an “open letter” signed by almost 200 Palestinians circulated, some of them well-known activists and academics, joining the Israel lobby’s chorus of condemnation over Abbas’ offensive comments.
In the letter, the signatories “unequivocally condemn the morally and politically reprehensible comments made by President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas about the Holocaust.”
They accuse the PA of “increasingly authoritarian and draconian rule which disproportionately impacts those living under occupation” – as if the PA was not established precisely for that task, which it has excelled at since Abbas’ predecessor, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, entered Gaza in 1994.
Yet the signatories of the open letter portray the PA’s objectionable acts primarily as a more recent failure of Palestinian self-governance.
It is perhaps because of this implicitly self-blaming discourse that many staunch supporters of Israel, including the German government – one of the most implacable enemies of Palestinian freedom and self-determination – felt entirely comfortable promoting the Palestinian open letter.
The open letter does allow that Abbas is “supported by Western and pro-Israel forces seeking to perpetuate Israeli apartheid” and states that he and his entourage “have forfeited any claim to represent the Palestinian people.”
The point, however, is that Abbas, even when he was elected to a five-year term that officially expired in 2009, did not represent the Palestinian people, but a small portion who voted for him in the West Bank and Gaza, which have a combined population comprising about one-third of the Palestinian people – except that this is the only one-third that Israel and its Western sponsors refer to as the entire “Palestinian people.”
That many of the signatories are diasporic Palestinians whom Abbas does not even claim to represent makes it all the stranger that the signatories believe that anyone thinks Abbas represents them at all.
Most glaring, the open letter totally fails to mention that the PA’s primary function is and has always been to fight with guns, prisons, torture and murder against the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people.
Some of those who signed the letter – and for whom I have great respect – have been consistent over the years in condemning the PA’s collaboration with the occupier, and upholding the Palestinian people’s right to resist.
But others, it must be said, have been extremely muted, if not entirely silent, about Abbas’ and the PA’s crimes against and betrayal of the Palestinian people and their resistance.
Others still have at times attacked the resistance in the midst of existential battles deeply and widely supported by the Palestinian people.
This begs the question as to why any Palestinian would initiate or endorse a letter against Abbas for offending Western liberal and Zionist sensibilities, but not for his ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people and their resistance that can only accurately be described as treason.
Who should apologize ?
Moreover, for Palestinians to in effect apologize for Abbas – even if it is couched as condemnation – is to implicitly take responsibility for him.
Palestinian author Ramzy Baroud describes Abbas as “a collaborator” and as “a puppet in the hands of Israel” and the United States.
“By condemning Mahmoud Abbas without offering a proper political context of who Mahmoud Abbas is, and who the puppet masters of Abbas are, you are really doing a disfavor to the Palestinian people,” Baroud says in a response to the letter.
“You’re putting us once again in a defensive position as if we once more have to defend ourselves against accusations of anti-Semitism. Mahmoud Abbas does not represent the Palestinians.”
If anything, Baroud says, it is Abbas’ puppet masters who should apologize, not Palestinians.
Indeed, among the many fervent Zionists who criticized Abbas this week was the German ambassador in Tel Aviv, Steffen Seibert.
Seibert slammed Abbas’ comments as an “insult to the memory” of millions of Jews murdered by the German government and asserted that “Palestinians deserve to hear the historical truth from their leader.”
But Seibert’s insistence that Abbas is the leader of the Palestinians is as much a lie as anything Abbas said.
Abbas is no more the Palestinian “leader” than the puppet rulers installed by the Nazis in Norway, the Netherlands, France and other German-occupied countries during World War II were the legitimate “leaders” of those nations.
Abbas is widely viewed among the Palestinians as the West’s and Israel’s quisling, not the leader of the Palestinians.
And as such Palestinians have absolutely no responsibility for his words or deeds.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)