Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during the Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah.
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
In an attempt at damage control following widespread outrage and condemnation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s antisemitic “history lesson” this week, the PA on Wednesday issued a clarification of sorts.
Employing a classic “sorry, not-sorry” approach, Palestinian Executive Committee chairman Saeb Erekat denied that Abbas’s speech at the Palestinian National Conference on Monday was antisemitic because it didn’t deny the “massacres that were perpetrated against Jews, including the Holocaust.”
It would have been better had he said nothing.
Drawing distinction on what constitutes antisemitic language invites closer inspection of his words and does the Palestinian leader no favors.
While it is true that in this speech Abbas didn’t engage in Holocaust denial (past statements have raised concerns about his belief on that front) it was antisemitic through and through, employing some of the oldest and most notorious anti-Jewish tropes.
“From the 11th century until the Holocaust that took place in Germany, the Jews – who moved to Western and Eastern Europe – were subjected to a massacre every 10 to 15 years. But why did this happen?” Abbas asked on Monday. “The Jewish issue that was widespread in all European countries... was not because of their religion, but rather their social role related to usury and banks.”
Abbas also cited a long espoused, but factually rejected theory that Ashkenazi Jews do not hail from what is modern-day Israel, but rather Khazaria, an empire that was located between Eastern Europe and the Middle East hundreds of years ago.
Abbas’s statement were nearly universally condemned.
Israeli politicians from the Left and Right, alongside the European Union and the United States, panned it thoroughly.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas “again recited the most contemptible antisemitic canards,” and called on the international community to condemn him for a speech full of “utmost ignorance and brazen gall.”
Germany’s foreign minister took to Twitter to declare that it was Germany, not the Jews, who were responsible for the Holocaust, a historical fact that we would hope would not go questioned in 2018.
“We reject any relativization of the Holocaust,” Heiko Maas tweeted. “Germany bears responsibility for the most atrocious crime of human history.”
Even those considered most friendly and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause had nothing but criticism for the speech. The UN’s envoy to the Middle East, Nikolay Mladonov, slammed Abbas for choosing to repeat “some of the most contemptuous antisemitic slurs, including the suggestion that the social behavior of Jews was the cause for the Holocaust.”
But Abbas’s speech wasn’t merely antisemitism employed to spread hatred of Jews among his listeners. His speech was perhaps even more nefarious because its goal was to delegitimize the foundations of the Jewish state. By falsely characterizing the origins of Jew-hatred and linking Hitler and Zionism, he sought to reject Israel’s right to exist.
This sort of antisemitism is the reason there is no peace.
It is time the Palestinians stop thinking about undermining the existence of Israel and focus on how to live together.
For 20 years, Abbas has claimed to be a proponent of peace. He even, mind-boggingly, made that claim in his speech on Monday.
But is he? Twenty years of political rejectionism and apparent contempt and disregard to the Jews’ suffering suggest otherwise.
The US Embassy move in two weeks should serve as a wakeup call for Abbas and the PA. Their denial-rooted intransigence is not working. They need to come to the table and negotiate. But first, the Jewish people demand an apology.
The Palestinians also deserve better. Abbas showed in his speech that he is no longer a relevant leader for them. It’s time for him to move on.
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