Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Holocaust the “single greatest tragedy in modern-day history” during a meeting with a visiting American rabbi in Ramallah on Sunday.
According to Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a Jewish-Muslim interfaith group, Abbas agreed to make a public declaration on behalf of Holocaust-remembrance efforts around the world, as well as to speak out against attempts to ban circumcision and ritual slaughter in several European countries.
Abbas told Schneier that “remembrance should be an issue of increased concern to both Jews and Muslims,” the rabbi said after the meeting.
Abbas has been a subject of criticism in some Israeli circles over accusations of Holocaust denial because of his graduate thesis, written while studying in the former Soviet Union, which asserted that “a partnership was established between Hitler’s Nazis and the leadership of the Zionist movement” and that the Zionist movement “gave permission to every racist in the world, led by Hitler and the Nazis, to treat Jews as they wish, so long as it guarantees immigration to Palestine.”
Last year Abbas defended his thesis, saying that he “challenges anyone who can deny that the Zionist movement had ties with the Nazis before World War II,” according to a report in the Palestinian news service Ma’an.
The Palestinian Authority has been accused of distorting the Holocaust in the past. In 2011, a PA-sponsored youth magazine ran a feature in which Hitler tells a Palestinian girl that he “killed them [the Jews] so you would all know that they are a nation which spreads destruction all over the world.” Israel has been accused of the “exaggeration of the story of the Holocaust” by Palestinian news outlets such as the official Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida.
Last week, Palestinian University Al-Quds distanced itself from a trip taken by one of its professors and 27 students to Auschwitz, making sure to tell the public that it was not in any way connected to the institution of higher learning.
Schneier, whose organization works to build bridges between Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States and Europe, told The Jerusalem Post that he approached Abbas not as a Palestinian leader or in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but in his role as a leader of a large Muslim community.
The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Schneier said, has begun forming rapid- response committees of Muslim and Jewish leaders in order to quickly respond to issues such as circumcision and ritual slaughter bans, which are of importance to both communities.
According to the FFEU’s Imam Shamsi Ali, following last week’s deadly shooting attack Jewish communal institutions in Overland Park, Kansas, the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City contacted the group and indicated interest in joining such a committee.
It is the job of Islamic and Jewish leaders to stand up for each other, Shamsi told the Post.