Abbas’ false claim drew swift condemnation from Israeli and European officials. It also fueled accusations that Abbas – an architect of interim peace agreements between Israelis and Palestinians in the 1990s – is not genuinely committed to resolving the ongoing conflict.
In a speech late last month, Abbas said: “They say that Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews, and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews.”
“No,” Abbas added. Jews were persecuted, he continued, because of “their social role, which had to do with usury, money and so on.”
Abbas also repeated a widely discredited theory that European, or Ashkenazi, Jews have no ancient roots in the Middle East. Instead, Abbas claimed that European Jews were the descendants of a nomadic Turkic tribe that converted to Judaism during the medieval period, and therefore were not victims of antisemitism.
“When we hear them talk about Semitism and antisemitism – the Ashkenazi Jews, at least, are not Semites,” Abbas said.
Abbas’ comments were broadcast live on Palestinian television two weeks ago, in a speech to members of his secular political party, Fatah.
The remarks were brought to a wider audience Wednesday, when the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-based monitoring group that mainly translates extremist comments by Arab and Iranian leaders, distributed a subtitled version of Abbas’ speech.
Abbas is the president of the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous body that has administered parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank since the 1990s, when the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships signed interim peace accords.
His comments illustrated why he has developed a checkered reputation among Israeli and Western partners. Abbas was one of the chief negotiators in the peace process, and often is credited with helping to reduce tensions following a wave of violence in the 2000s. At times, he has also described the Holocaust as a crime against humanity.
But Abbas also has a long history of antisemitic remarks. He made similar comments in 2018 about usury and Ashkenazi Jews, and last year he accused Israel of committing “50 Holocausts” against Palestinians.
In 1984 he published a book in which he condemned the Holocaust but also cited historians who disputed the widely accepted death toll of as many as 6 million Jews.
“This is the true face of Palestinian ‘leadership,'” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, wrote on social media in response to Abbas’ latest speech.
“It is no wonder that mere hours ago a Palestinian teenage terrorist hacked innocent Israelis with a meat cleaver,” Erdan added, referring to an attack Wednesday in the Old City of Jerusalem that wounded at least two people.
The European Union said in a statement that Abbas’ “historical distortions are inflammatory, deeply offensive, can only serve to exacerbate tensions in the region and serve no one’s interests.”
The statement added: “They play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which president Abbas has repeatedly advocated for.”
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